Regeneration to Resurrection and Holiness in the Middle

I find it tragically easy to dislocate my pursuit of daily holiness (spiritual disciplines and progressive sanctification) from the broader picture of God’s redemptive plan over my life in Christ. Our hope of future resurrection must not negate the value of our daily progress, just as our daily progress must not diminish our hope for the incredible transformation that must happen to us in resurrection. Murray J. Harris explains this well in his textual notes on 2 Corinthians 4:16 in his excellent commentary (page 360):

For Paul, the spiritual body was not simply the state of the renewed “inner self” at the time of the believer’s death, but it seems a priori likely that he saw a relationship between the two, that he regarded resurrection not as a creatio ex nihilo, a sudden divine operation unrelated to the past, but as the fulfillment of a spiritual process begun at regeneration.

The daily renewal of the “inward person” (4:16) contributed toward the progressive transformation of the believer into the image of Christ (3:18) in a process that would be accelerated and completed by resurrection. Paul does not explicitly say that his ἔσω ἄνθρωπος [inner being] is the embryo of the spiritual body or bears its undeveloped image, but the natural transition of his thought from 4:16 to 5:1–4 shows that this sentiment would have been congenial to him.

As a result of the final convulsion of resurrection, the butterfly of the spiritual body will emerge from the chrysalis of the renewed “inner person.”

Connecting Christ’s Victory and My Obedience

Herman Ridderbos, Studies in Scripture and Its Authority (1978), 83–4:

The meaning of Christ’s self-sacrifice provides the New Testament message of reconciliation with a depth-dimension of which the church may never lose sight. To slight this dimension is to lose touch with the very mystery of the gospel.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that many who live out of this mystery of salvation and who find there the only consolation for life and death view with suspicion any new ideas putting all the emphasis on what our lives ought to reveal, instead of emphasizing what Christ has done, once and for all, in our place. Is this not a radical shift in focus? And ought we not rather to count as nothing all human effort so that we focus our attention and faith exclusively on what Christ, by his death and resurrection, has fully done, once and for all, in our place?

To think that way is to run the risk of making a serious mistake.

For although we are completely correct to stress the expiatory and atoning effect of Christ’s sacrifice as the focal point of the biblical account of reconciliation, we may not restrict the power of that sacrifice to what Christ once suffered and performed in our place. We refer again to the victorious power of Christ’s death and resurrection in his battle against the powers and demons which, as God’s adversaries, chained persons to their service. But this victory not only affects Satan and his subjects; the suffering and death of Christ also exert a liberating and renewing power in the lives of all who believe in him. The effect of this sacrifice is not only that it frees us from the guilt and punishment of sin, but also that it subjects us to Christ’s regime. Reconciliation means that the world — all things, man included — is again put right with God.

Sanctification Is Our Work of Gratitude for God’s Work of Justification, Right?

Wrong. In fact a model of sanctification defined primarily as (or solely as) gratitude-for-justification, becomes very problematic. Here’s how Richard Gaffin explains it in his book By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (Paternoster, 2006), pages 76–77:

In the matter of sanctification, it seems to me, we must confront a tendency, at least practical and, my impression is, pervasive, within churches of the Reformation to view the gospel and salvation in its outcome almost exclusively in terms of justification. …

The effect of this outlook, whether or not intended, is that sanctification tends to be seen as the response of the believer to salvation, defined in terms of justification. Sanctification is viewed as an expression of gratitude from our side for our justification and the free forgiveness of our sins, usually with the accent on the imperfection and inadequacy of such expressions of gratitude.

Sometimes there is even the suggestion that while sanctification is highly desirable, and its lack, certainly unbecoming and inappropriate, it is not really necessary in the life of the believer, not really integral to our salvation and an essential part of what it means to be saved from sin. The attitude we may have – at least this is the way it comes across – is something like, “If Jesus did that for you, died that your sins might be forgiven, shouldn’t you at least do this for him, try to please him?” [I.e. what Piper calls “the debtor’s ethic.”]

With such a construction justification and sanctification are pulled apart; the former is what God does, the latter what we do, and do so inadequately. At worst, this outlook tends to devolve into a deadening moralism.

What takes place, in effect, is the reintroduction of a refined works principle, more or less divorced from and so in tension with the faith that justifies. The self-affirming works, those self-securing and self-assuring efforts, so resolutely resisted at the front door of justification, creep back in through the back door of sanctification. The “faith” and “works” that God intends be joined together in those he has restored to his fellowship and service (cf., e.g., Jas. 2:18), through uniting them to Christ by faith, are pulled apart and exist, at best, in an uneasy tension, a tension that can paralyze the Christian life and render obedience less than uninhibited and wholehearted.

Last summer I asked Richard Gaffin to explain why this gratitude-for-justification model of sanctification is misleading, and he explains in this 5-minute clip: