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:

The Deepest Motive for Holiness and Charity

Richard B. Gaffin, By Faith, Not by Sight (Paternoster, 2006), page 78:

Ultimately, in the deepest sense, for Paul “our good works” are not ours, but God’s. They are his work begun and continuing in us, his being “at work in us, both to will and to do what please him” (Phil. 2:13). That is why, without any tension, a faith that rests in God the Savior is a faith that is restless to do his will.

In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul puts to the church those searching rhetorical questions, “Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (NIV). These questions, we should be sure, have the same answer for sanctification as for justification, for our good works as well as for our faith. Both, faith and good works, are God’s gift, his work in us. The deepest motive for our sanctification, for holy living and good works, is not our psychology, not how I “feel” about God and Jesus. Nor is it even our faith. Rather, that profoundest of motives is the resurrection power of Christ, the new creation we are and have already been made a part of in Christ by his Spirit.

How Many?

Richard Gaffin, WTJ 38.3 (1975), 299:

How many believers today understand themselves with the apostle as those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11)?

How many experience that they are members of God’s eschatological kingdom not only at hand but already present?

How many grasp with some perception of its vast implications that in the interim between the resurrection and return of Christ the existence of the church in the world is determined by the overlapping tension between this age and the age to come?

Richard Gaffin, JETS 41.4 (1998), 585:

How many believers today recognize that the present work of the Spirit within the Church and in their lives is of one piece with God’s great work of restoring the entire creation, begun in sending his Son “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4) and to be consummated at his return?

How many Christians grasp that in union with Christ, the life-giving Spirit, the Christian life in its entirety is essentially and necessarily resurrection life?

How many comprehend that in terms of Paul’s fundamental anthropological distinction between “the inner” and “outer man” (2 Cor 4:16), between “heart” and “body,” believers at the core of their being will never be any more resurrected than they already are?

Richard Gaffin, By Faith, Not by Sight (2006), 75:

How many Christians understand that the Holy Spirit presently at work in them is nothing less than resurrection power, that the Spirit, through whom God “will give life to your mortal bodies,” is “his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11)?

How many believers grasp that the Holy Spirit indwelling them is an eschatological power, that, in terms of the metaphors Paul uses, he in his activity in the church is an actual “down payment” on our eschatological inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5; Eph. 1:14), the “firstfruits” of the full “harvest” of his eschatological working (Rom. 8:23)?

How many appreciate that Christ himself, as “life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45), is present and at work in our lives in his resurrection power?