“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
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?