Is the Holy Spirit the Source of Our Justification and Sanctification?

I will begin with the part with which I very much agree, in which Mike Horton warns against calling “sanctification” a cooperation.

Horton: “It is inappropriate to import the monergism-synergism
antithesis (typically belonging to the debate over the new birth and
justification) into sanctification. It is better simply to say that we are working out that salvation that has Christ has already won for us and given to us by his Spirit through the gospel. Though in
sanctification (unlike justification) faith is active in good works,
the gospel is always the ground and the Spirit is always the source of our sanctification as well as our justification.”

Mark McCulley: The Holy Spirit does give us what Christ has already won. But we also need to say that the Son gives us the Holy Spirt, and that the Son is given to us by legal imputation. Galatians 4:6– because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit into your hearts.”

Of course this raises many questions about order and the word “union” and Horton has done a good job of borrowing from Bruce McCormack on the priority of imputation as a performative act. (See both his book on Covenant Union and his essay in Tributes to Calvin).

I know the Westminster Confession uses “applied by the Spirit”
language but we need to account for the order in Galatians 3:13-14.
Redemption/ justification is the basis for the promise of the Spirit,
the blessing of Abraham. As Ephesians 4:8 quotes Psalm 68: “when he
ascended on high, he gave gifts to men.” Every reference to “baptism
with the Spirit” (including I Cor 12:13) has Christ as the one who
gives the Spirit, not the Spirit as the one who gives us Christ.
Effectual calling by God the Father does not assume that it’s the Spirit who includes us into Christ.

It’s a reduction (not the entire truth) to say tha the Holy Spirit gives us the salvation which Christ won. Even though I agree that there is no imputation and calling apart from the Spirit, I worry about the leaving out forensic imputation or making the legal only one of the results of some “more basic” union.

The thing I would most fundamentally question in Horton’s paragraph
above is the conclusion—“the Spirit is always the the source of our
sanctification as well as our justification.” One, the Father is
forgotten. Two, in what sense is the Spirit the source of our
justification? In the sense that Christ did His work by the Spirit? In the sense that the Spirit gives us the faith which has as its object what Christ won for the elect?

We need to make sure that we keep saying that Christ’s righteousness is not what the Spirit does in us. This is why I don’t think we should even talk about a “twofold righteousness” or an “imparted righteousness”. In any case, we need to make a distinction (not identify) the work of Christ outside us and the work of the Spirit in us.

Three, we need to define “sanctification” and make a distinction
between our traditional use of the word and the Bible use of the word. The Bible has different senses of “sanctification”, both by the Spirit (II Thess 2:13) and “set apart and perfected by the blood” (Hebrews 10). David Petersen’s book Possessed by God is a good place to start to think about this.

Of course, in our common language, when we say ‘sanctification”, we tend not to be talking about Christ’s death or about the Spirit causing us to hear the gospel. We tend to think of the new birth as creating in us a new disposition which causes us to gradually get better.

Horton in his good book on covenant union has a very good discussion
of the problems with traditional accounts of “regeneration”, and I
know that none of us can talk about everything at one time. But my
specific point is to ask how the Spirit is the source of
“sanctification”. If we are talking about “sanctification by the
blood” (Hebrews 10) then it is very right to notice the parallel to
Christ’s death as the source of justification.

But if we are talking about the Spirit causing us to understand and believe the gospel, then we cannot identify the source of justification as the Holy Spirit.

The gospel is about the law, because the gospel tells us how Christ
satisfied the law for the elect. The gospel demands a faith that
repents from the old life of trusting ourselves (even with grace and help) to satisfy the law. To hear the gospel is to turn from the sin of trusting ourselves (with grace and help) to ever become acceptable to God. We learn to take sides against ourselves. It is Christ’s death which not only justifies us but also sanctifies us.

We believe and we repent, and the Holy Spirit causes us to do
both, but these things that the Spirit works in us are not our righteousness. The Holy Spirit’s work in us is not the source of either our justification nor our sanctification.

While we are still sinners, we are already sanctified.

Horton’s remarks can be found at:

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14 Comments on “Is the Holy Spirit the Source of Our Justification and Sanctification?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Tullian T quotes Philippians 2:13–“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” and then explains: ” God works his work in you—which is the work already accomplished by Christ. Our work, therefore, means coming to a greater understanding of his work.

    mark mcculley: In the interest of coming to greater understanding, I
    want to point out that Christ’s work outside of us (His death) is not
    the same as Christ’s work in us. Christ’s work in us (indwelling by
    His Holy Spirit) is a result of but not the same as Christ’s
    righteousness obtained. Christ’s death is Christ’s work, and though
    we are baptized “into” that death, the Bible does not talk about that
    Death being “worked in us”. Christ’s righteousness is outside us.
    Christ’s righteousness belongs to us by legal imputation.

    Christ’s righteousness is in heaven, not in our hearts. there is a Lutheran rhetoric which tends to equate the legal death of Christ with the subjective conversion (the gospel killing and making alive, daily dying, etc). I don’t want to deny the importance of what God does in us, but I think it’s a mistake to identify that with Christ’s work
    outside us.

    Since sanctification by the Spirit does involve regeneration, we must
    NOT equate what God does in us with what Christ did outside us.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    David Scaer: “Other Protestant denominations see sanctification, the working of the Holy Spirit in Christian lives, in synergistic terms, another Greek derivative, which means that a thing has two or more causes. Believers are required to play a part in developing their personal holiness by living lives disciplined by the Law and by special ethical regulations set down by the church. Christians can and must cooperate with God’s grace to increase the level of personal sanctification. Cooperation, a Latin derivative, is a synonym of synergism, and also means two or more things or persons working together.

    Scaer: “These confessions think that God alone justifies, but that sanctification is a combined divine-human activity, which even though God begins, each believer is obligated to complete. In this system, the Gospel, which alone creates faith, is replaced by the Law which instructs in moral requirements and warns against immorality. Justification by grace is seen as a past event and the present focus is on man cooperating with God to reach a complete sanctification.

    Scaer: “Lutherans recognize that Christians as sinners are never immune to the Law’s moral demands and its threats against sin, but in the strictest sense these warnings do not belong to Christian sanctification, the life believers live in Christ and in which Christ lives in them.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Colossians 2 does not teach an “inner circumcision” by the work of the Spirit. Mike Horton, Covenant and Salvation, p111–The believer passes through judgment with Christ to the other side. God does in fact condemn the guilty with Christ. Because of their identification with Him, they are circumcised by the “cutting off” of the old self while Christ himself fully undergoes the “cutting off’ in death, suffering the divine wrath….

  4. markmcculley Says:

    While we do “suffer with Christ”, the Romans 6 death in Christ is by forensic identification and is not the same as our suffering with Christ, not even the experience of conversion when we take sides with Christ against ourselves. Not through my experience I died to the law, but “through the law I died to the law”. See Horton’s comments on Galatians 2:19 in Covenant and Salvation, p151.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    In one sense we can say that “sanctification is through faith” in the same way that we can say that “justification is through faith”. But we must be careful not to define faith as that which keeps us from sinning, as in, the only reason you sin is because you don’t believe the gospel enough. No, even those of us who do believe the gospel are still sinners. Believing the gospel does NOT satisfy God’s law. Faith does NOT fulfill God’s commandments. See Mike Horton’s rejection of Milbank, the Finnish interpretation, and Gundry and Seifrid, in Covenant and Salvation, p175.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Even though I want to say that sanctification is not a matter of degree, but complete, as justification as total, I do want to make a distinction between sanctification and justification. We believe. God does NOT believe for us. God does NOT believe in us. Our faith in Christ is NOT Christ’s faith in us. We repent. Christ does not repent for us or in us. We are still subjects, agents. Osiander confused God’s attribute of righteousness with Christ’s righteousness obtained, and then confused Christ in us with Christ’s righteousness outside us and for us. Mike Horton, p176, Covenant and Salvation.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Petersen, Possessed by God, p44 -In I Corinthians 1:30, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption describe the same reality,namely our status with God through Jesus Christ. It is sometimes argued that “sanctification” emphasizes the
    moral element. But the sanctification here is not a process of moral
    change. the context is about belonging to God and being given a holy status. The focus is on God’s saving activity, not on our response.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Gaffin thinks that
    1.”definitive sanctification” and “progressive sanctification” are also by grace, not by works.
    2. But also that the “grace-works” antithesis is removed once you are “united” and justified.
    3. And that justification is not by synergy, but that sanctification is by synergy.

    p73, Gaffin, By Faith Not by Sight—”Here is what may be fairly called a synergy but it is not a 50/50 undertaking (not even 99.9% God and 0.1% ourselves). Involved here is the ‘mysterious math’ of the creator and his image-bearing creature, whereby 100% plus 100% =100%. Sanctification is 100% the work of God, and for that reason, is to engage the full 100% activity of the believer.”

    1. “Union” is defined by antithesis so that “union” is not justification, not sanctification, not any of the benefits, but rather the presence of the person of Christ (naked, alone, without His benefits).
    2. “Union” is nevertheless conditioned on “faith”, and faith means not only Christ indwelling but already a “break with sin”, and that “freedom from sin” is defined NOT IN FORENSIC TERMS but in ontological terms.
    3.. The Holy Spirit’s work in us is read into Romans 6. Christ’s “break with sin” by His death in Romans 6 is ignored.
    4. So supposedly we have this “double grace”, and sanctification is by grace also. But also sanctification is a synergy, where works by grace are different than works without grace, and thus sanctification by grace is by both grace and works.

    Beware of “mysterious math”.


    Horton: To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. How can they fall under the curses of a covenant to which they didn’t belong? If faith is the only way into membership (693), then why all the warnings to members of the covenant community to exercise faith and persevere in faith to the end?

    God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. Yet they must embrace the promise in faith. Otherwise, they fall under the covenant curse without Christ as their mediator. The word proclaimed and sealed in the sacraments is valid, regardless of our response, but we don’t enjoy the blessings apart from receiving Christ

    Engelsma: Horton affirms that God promises saving grace in Christ to every baptized baby. For a Reformed theologian, it is the same as to affirm that God promised saving grace to Esau in his circumcision. This affirmation implies that God failed to keep His promise. His promise failed. Grace is resistible, inefficacious, and impotent. The reason, they will say, is the unbelief of Esau. Whatever the reason, grace does not realize itself in one to whom God is gracious. Regardless of the reason for grace’s impotence, the teaching is heretical.
    If God promises saving grace to both Esau and Jacob, as Horton affirms, but the promise fails because of Esau’s unbelief, then the conclusion necessarily follows that grace succeeded in the case of Jacob, not because of the inherent, sovereign power of grace itself, that is, because of God, but because of Jacob’s acceptance of grace

  10. markmcculley Says:

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    this is Horton’s way of saying that Macarthur is arminian

    but also alas, Horton’s way of saying that all who don’t agree with his version of “covenant theology” are Arminians

    mixed bag

    Horton wants to say, if you don’t have a ‘”category” that says that covenant and election are different, so that non-elect are in the new covenant

    condescending, they don’t know the history

    evangelicals were “basically protestant reformed” but too dumb to know it—- I don’t buy it

    so what does this say about Gaffin—he doesn’t know the history either? he doesn’t have the categories? but Gaffin clearly is looking mroe to the “Christ within” than to “Christ outside”—-but Gaffin escapes the accusation of “pietist” by being “Reformed”

    we don’t make Jesus Savour either

    faith is not the cause of union either

  11. markmcculley Says:

  12. markmcculley Says:

    We have have been baptized into Christ” is NOT about the water ritual. The baptism on view in I Peter 3 and Colossians 2 and Romans 6 Is NOT ‘an outward sign of an inward change…. Water does not fulfill the type of physical circumcision…

    One, I am not giving “the baptist view” Most baptists I know are as likely to assume that “baptism” means also water as any paedobaptist. (See for example, though I like Robert Haldane’s commentary, his remarks on Romans 6.) Two, I never said anything about Spirit baptism. The Holy Spirit does not baptize into Christ, at least not so far as any Bible text teaches. I Cor 12:13 correctly translated reads –”in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” The text does not say “by the Spirit” or teach that the Holy Spirit is the baptizer. The I Cor 12:13 agrees with the other six Spirit baptism texts in teaching that Christ is the agent who gives the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not give Christ, and the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in Romans 6. It is not the Holy Spirit who “baptizes into the death” and, Jeff, if you were interacting with what I wrote in those last posts, you would have seen that. Yes, many baptists assume that the Holy Spirit is the agent in Romans 6, but they also wrongly agree with many paedobaptists who assume that any text with the word “baptism” must have reference to the work of the Spirit and read that idea into Romans 6 and Colossians 2 and I Peter 3.

    Even though the Lord Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, I was not talking about that baptism either. Yet you write
    “(2) Sacramental: Uses of baptizo generally refer to water baptism as a sign for Spirit baptism. The exception is explicitly marked references to baptism by the Spirit, which are talking only about the underlying reality pointed to by the sign. ” Do you think there’s water in Romans 6 and in Colossians 2 and I peter 3? You can copy and paste that “the exceptions are explicitly references to baptism by the Spirit”, but that does not deal with either the texts or what I wrote. There is no text anywhere that talks about “baptism by the Spirit”, and the three texts a) don’t refer to water but instead to something that actually saves and b. don’t refer to the Spirit or to the new birth. All three texts are about legal identity with Christ’s death. They don’t use the word “imputation”, but their legal context has nothing about the Holy Spirit or regeneration (or water)

    With great certainty, you assume only two alternatives—some version of your covenant theology OR dispensationalism, either water baptism OT Spirit Baptism, either paedobaptism or “the credobaptist view”

    I never said that Romans 6 or Colossians 2 or I Peter 3 were about the Holy Spirit,. I only said the texts were not about water. If not water, then what? As I argued, not water, but the Father’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect. I never denied that many “baptism” texts are about water, and about some texts, I might still be agnostic. We could go from “John the Baptist with water, but Jesus with the Spirit to the Great Commission. But until you have time to talk about the three texts in question, you need to stop assuming “water” or “water as a reference to the Spirit”. That paradigm does not fit all the biblical evidence.

    I think we are going to have to talk about “the one baptism” (Ephesians) and also about I Corinthians 12:13 (baptized into one Spirit) What’s the effect of saying “we also do credo-baptisms”? Does this mean that there are two kinds of water baptism or is Leithart correct to say that “all baptism is paedobaptism”? Is one kind of water baptism a better sign of “sovereign grace” than the professing water kind, since it does not wait for any witness to an effectual call?

    Since I deny that the new birth comes before God’s imputation of Christ’s death and say that it’s Christ’s death imputed which results in having Christ and life, am I also begging the question about what “union” means? I hope not. Christ, who was far off, is brought near by the news of the gospel (Romans 10:8), and united to the elect when God credits them with His righteousness (which is the value and merit of Christ’s death) and effectually calls them . The elect don’t first get Christ and then get His righteousness . The elect cannot first “put on Christ”, and only after that get “baptized into His death” Being placed into Christ’s death is in order to being in Christ and then having Christ in us. Being baptized into Christ in Romans 6 (which is NOT regeneration by the Spirit, which is NOT baptism by the Spirit) is another way to talk about God’s imputation. And this means that Christ baptizing the elect with or into the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13) is not first, but the result of legal union with Christ.

    Berkhof—-“It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing (or future) condition, but on that of a gracious imputation–a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.”

    Cal Beisner— “To answer Leithart’s questions: First, the term baptism did not mean, primarily, a ritual application of water. Second, commentators argue in two ways that in Romans 6 baptism does not denote the rite: (a) consistent application of that sense in the immediate context (verses 1-10) would yield the conclusion (contrary to other passages of Scripture) that all, without exception, who undergo the rite are regenerate, converted, justified, sanctified, and finally glorified, and (b) Paul himself, who certainly views circumcision and baptism as type and antitype (Colossians 2:11-12), had already written in the same epistle that it was not the rite of circumcision but the spiritual reality designated by it….
    p 324

  13. markmcculley Says:

    if we say that “sanctification” is not the basis for “justification”, but then say that “sanctification” is the evidence of justification, what is the practical difference? Does the time sequence “save the difference”? if we say that faith is not works, but then say that works prove faith, what is the real daily difference?

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