Which came first?

gaffin.gifQuote of the week:

“But church history has made all too evident that the apparently inevitable outcome of such an emphasis [he means an emphasis on self-sanctification] is the rise of moralism, the reintroduction into the Christian life of a refined works-principle, more or less divorced from the faith that justifies and eventually leaving no room for that faith. What is resolutely rejected at the front door of justification comes in through the back door of sanctification and takes over the whole house.”

The writer: Richard B. Gaffin, Jr, Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, USA

The article: Redemption and Resurrection: An exercise in biblical-systematic theology

Say What?:

For the first half of my Christian life, I would say that we are saved by faith and made holy by works. Justification (a right standing with God) is by grace through faith. It is God’s work. Sanctification (a holy life) is by my works.

Gaffin is trying to point out that I would have been dead wrong–and I say amen.

We are saved by grace through faith and made holy the same way. To say this theologically: both justification and sanctification are by grace through faith.

“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you [justification] will complete it [sanctification] until the day of Jesus Christ;” Philippians 1:6, NKJV.

“Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” Exodus 31:13, NKJV.

“So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts 20:32, NKJV.

Once we make sanctification our works instead of God’s, we introduce “moralism” into the equation. Moralism is a philosophy that bases your acceptance with God on your conformity to moral standards. It’s a subset of legalism.

  • Moralism shifts the burden of holiness from God’s shoulders back to yours.
  • Moralism reduces the role of Jesus from Savior and Sanctifier to mere Teacher.
  • Moralism has turned generations of Christians into Pharisees and has turned off generations of non-Christians from ever giving the gospel a fair hearing.

Morality is the result of sanctification, and we are all for it–in public and in private. But you can’t slather some morality over a grace-deprived spirit and expect to please God.

“What is resolutely rejected at the front door of justification comes in through the back door of sanctification and takes over the whole house.”

This is my favorite line in Gaffin’s article. Why do we so fervently reject a works-based salvation, yet so readily accept a works-based post-salvation Christian life? Good works are the outcroppings of grace in our lives–they are neither means nor ends in themselves. The focus is Christ, not our morality or works. Once we focus on either, we lose the focus on Christ. When you let “works-based-anything” through the back door it’s only a matter of time before works takes over “the whole house”, and becomes the basis even for initial salvation.

“Good works” is not the enemy: our legalistic, self-righteous, self-justifying heart is.

The old Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, preached:

“For every look at self take ten looks at Christ.”

Sinclair Ferguson wrote,

“from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about itself and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Can I get an Amen?


12 thoughts on “Which came first?

  1. Pingback: Which came first?

  2. AMEN.

    Galatians 3:2-4…

    2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
    3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh [Inner Mess] ?
    4 Did you suffer so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain?

    Bill, recall your comments that the “Inner Mess” provides constant conflict TO INCLUDE our apparant “spiritualness”…

    Galatians 5:17… “For the flesh [Inner Mess] sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh [Inner Mess]; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

    One surprising outcome of the “Inner Mess” and its influence on evangelical Protestant churches is the “attraction-of-distraction.” That is, instead of preaching Christ crucified and living by “Inner Grace” — to the exclusion of the “Inner Mess” — these churches have tendencies toward political action, lobbying, or military affairs with an underlying moralism or “works principle” (as termed by Richard Gaffin, Jr., above). Such Christians identify their unity MORE by their common “moralism” or “patriotism” than by their Inner Grace…!

    [Caveat: There is NOTHING wrong (!!!) with patriotism or morality, per se!!!!!!!!!, it’s just that these are NOT substitutes for Inner Grace, and, when they are functioning as substitutes, they are actually facades of the Inner Mess (masquerading as Inner Grace). You can sense the difference in a church when the “gentle voice” of Inner Grace is muted by the “outcry” of these social agendas.]

    It is easier, nay, more “natural,” to align ourselves along with our “Inner Mess” (it’s easy to put lipstick on the pig, isn’t it?) than to align ourselves with our “Inner Grace,” which is kind, gentle, peaceable, and does not return evil for evil or insult for insult.

    That is the struggle of our flesh [Inner Mess].


  3. Are you arguing for the primacy of grace-through-faith, meaning that grace is a first and neccessary cause of our sanctification? Or are you saying that grace is a SUFFICIENT cause of our sanctification?

    I can’t disagree with you there and yet, when Jesus speaks of His own criteria for union with Himself, He seems to suggest that not doing the good-works born of grace-through-faith is sufficient cause to reject us, souls and all. “Whatever you did to the least of these,” sheep and goats, and many more examples.

    Jesus is very clear with the pharisees that empty action makes you into a “white-washed tomb,” but he doesn’t seem to counter that with “therefore, have the right attitude of heart, and don’t worry about obedience.” As best as I can make sense of the Jesus I meet in the Gospels (which I’ve spent the most time with. I’ve mentioned to you that the hermeneutical issues with Paul have caused me grief.) I find Him calling me to a fullness of sanctification, whereby my Heart and my actions are focused on obedience to Him.

    But, again, I can’t disagree with you that grace-through-faith comes first, in both salvation and sanctification. I just hope we can be more than anti-pharisees or anti-legalists. I hope we can be Christians.

  4. Wonderful points, Dr. G! I certainly agree with Mr. Gaffin in describing our “strong” front doors and passing over our weaker “back doors.”

    As a mother of grown children, it has always been a challenge to describe the life of grace along with the life of sanctification. We teach our children they are saved by the “works” of God and live by the power of God in them. Then it comes down to the nitty gritty, behavioral training – don’t lie, don’t steal, tell mommy the truth, don’t hit your brother, don’t watch porn, stay pure for marriage, don’t cheat on your exams, etc, etc, until it seems very “legalistic” in general. (The identification of sin, even, appears “legalistic”!!) It definitely is a challenge to rear children!!!

    I’m so all for grace!!! However, I’ve experienced the reaction Paul describes In Romans 6 – “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” In immaturity, the “learners” are growing into the knowledge of grace, but the “teachers” are subject to the accusation of “legalists!” It isn’t unheard of – I’m saved, I’ll do whatever I want. I’m sure this definitely feeds the fires of the “legalists/parents!”

    For a pastor, it seems to me to be a very difficult task to decribe sanctification! Justification is far more fun! You’ve spent years teaching justification; how about some meat on sanctification??? Going in that direction……?

  5. I just re-read “The Spiritual Life of Jesus – part 2.” Sorry, I’m a tad dense, but realized sanctification is possible by using the “resources” Jesus had on earth. However, (again – is that like a “but”?) being taught to allow the Holy Spirit His way, using the Bible as “food,” and prayer – can’t that fall into “works of legalism”? It is still a “list’ of things to do to be sanctified.

    Please don’t get me wrong!!! I LOVE the power of the Holy Spirit ( I CRAVE it!), I wouldn’t want to live without the Bible to read, and so appreciate the ability and honor to commune with the Almighty Creator. Bottom line – it’s still “things” to do….see my point?

  6. Jean,

    I was reading the Book of James, and there is a passage about demons believing that God is one. The outworking of that belief is that they “tremble.”

    You know, anyone may objectify the Christian experience with terminology and theological concepts, but the reality is that we are talking about a palpable, real relationship with the Living God.

    The theology is useful in so far as language can provide knowledge and concepts to understand better. But there is no way to communicate in words that desiring the Living God and absorbing his grace is the point. Yet we want to learn Greek and Hebrew to “understand” theology better; we want to build concepts; doctrines; and churches.

    My own experience is to live; talk; and study Scripture as if (is that the best use of words?) my Lord was sitting beside me, watching me; listening to my tongue; listening to my thoughts. Watching me. Enjoying that I have him in my life.

    Maybe that is what the fear of the Lord is; everything you think and do incorporates Him. That is, nothing is done or said without due consideration to his presence.

    While for the demons, “trembling” was the outworking of their belief in God — their fear — but for us, the “fear of God” is that experience of Him in our experience (grace) that cannot be put into words.

    Hope that helps.

  7. Thanks so much, Joe, for your thoughts on this! It’s truly appreciated!

    Your last sentence explains “..that experience of Him in our experience (grace) that cannot be put into words,” is the problem as I see it. As parents, we truly want to teach our children the Truth of God and the Bible. In doing so, though, it can be not only seen as “legalistic” to others/yourself but actually become a legalistic ritual. How does one teach their children to live “desiring the living God and absorbing His grace…enjoying Him in their lives, giving due consideration to His presence”…? I would think the very best method is living that life yourself to reflect to your children the Fruit of the Spirit and a life living grace.

    It’s not only difficult to put into words to explain, but a task that needs diligent, continual filling/effort/attitude/submission/awareness… ( now, I’m sounding “legalistic” again!). I guess what I’m actually trying to say is sanctification is NOT a life-living piece of cake! That “flesh” we have is the bad guy.

    I’m certainly glad The Spirit has been given to us!

  8. My wife, children and myself have recently started attended the Outpost in Weaverville for this very reason. The church we were members of for many years hired a new pastor who is a strict calvinist and preaches lordship salvation constantly (MacArthur style). In our own christian experience we have found that “works” are ill defined and when you tie works to salvation justification you have replaced the spritual life with a works religion like any other. One of the best definitions of works I have heard is, “applying God’s truth to your experience.” Many times this is invisible and is simply between you and God. Lordship salvation churches have an inherent tendency to legalism, self righteousness and a subjective view of the christian life. This christian life is private and we are not supposed to evaluate the spiritual life of other believers. What passes for works in many churches is just good citizenship and has no spiritual bearing whatsoever. We appreciate your teaching Pastor Bill.

  9. Thanks, Bill! I grew up in a Lordship-salivation church, but just didn’t know that’s what you call it – I thought “Baptist” covered it all!

    Anyway, it has been very enlightening to sit under Dr. G and have grace so thoroughly explained and appreciated. I knew my background was “legalistic,” but had grace parents who helped temper the pounding. In attempting to train my own children in the grace life, it sometimes appeared they felt so secure in grace, they weren’t much concerned about the santification process! In fact, just last week, we were taught that living in the “End Zone” we “ought” to read the Word, “ought” to pray, and “ought” to have fellowship to remain there. (This was NOT Dr. G’s teaching!!) What started out grace-saturated turned into a “list” of ought-tos. See how easily we can fall back into the trap of crazy zone?

Comments are closed.