Much needed clarity on sanctification

On Wednesday of General Assembly, the Gospel Reformation Network sponsored a luncheon with Derek Thomas as the featured speaker. His subject was sanctification. It is an address that is desperately needed in the church today. As recent months have proven, it is desperately needed within the PCA where confusion over sanctification has been on public display. This is odd to me as a new Presbyterian given the fact that our confession of faith is quite clear on sanctification and the use of God's law in the lives of believers.

After briefly summarizing six points that are generally agreed upon, Dr. Thomas offered three points of clarity concerning the doctrine of sanctification. These three points are, appropriately, pastoral. That is, a proper doctrine of sanctification never finally remains theoretical but speaks to how we actually live.
1. Teaching on sanctification must point to the necessity of effort.
Sanctification differs from justification in that God employs means in the sanctification of his people. In justification God declares sinners righteous by grace alone through faith alone. Works of obedience do not ever enter the picture. However, this is clearly not the case in sanctification. It is true that, like justification, sanctification has a declarative aspect - God declares his people to be set apart (holy). So it is appropriate for the church to be spoken of as having been sanctified. However, sanctification is also a progressive reality so that we are also being sanctified.

Sanctification therefore is not passive as is justification. God actively employs means to sanctify his people. Among those means are Spirit-driven effort (1 Cor 15:10; Phil 2:12-13). Dr. Thomas helpfully pointed out that our efforts toward obedience are "a product of the bi-lateral nature of the covenant." In other words, covenant is unilaterally initiated by God but bi-laterally applied. That is, there are real expectations for our obedience in the covenant of grace. The New Testament is rich in the language of effort and striving toward obedience and the putting to death of sin.

2. "Multifaceted Motivationalism"
Dr. Thomas described a "reductionistic theology that wants to see only one motive for obedience - gratitude." I have seen this repeatedly now for years. It is the idea that any motive for obedience other than gratitude somehow diminishes God and is inherently legalistic. The one problem with that line of reasoning is that it is patently unbiblical.

Surely gratitude for grace received is fundamental to our obedience. But the New Testament offers many motives for God's people to kill sin and pursue obedience. For instance, "Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right" (Eph 6:1). Sometimes we are told to obey simply because  it is right. As Thomas put it, "Obedience to the law because it is the law is not legalism."

Christians are even motivated to consider the final judgment as a motive for obedience: "So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

Search the New Testament. You will find that the Christian's motive for obedience is strongly plural. This is for our good. We are still being sanctified after all. In our daily battle against indwelling sin we need a whole arsenal of weapons. So long as we are south of heaven gratitude alone will never fully suffice.

3. The absolute necessity of genuine holiness in our lives.
There is a trend in contemporary preaching for the preacher to use the pulpit as a kind of confessional whereby he talks about what a horrendous sinner he is. Don't misunderstand. Pastors are sinners. Even the apostle Paul referred to himself as the chief of sinners. However, Paul also called those under his care to follow him as he followed Christ. I fear that some of the attraction to the "pulpit as confessional booth" type of preaching is that it tends toward a declension in holiness. If there is no observable holiness in the pastor then why need there be any in the pew?

We are sinners saved by grace. Grace is at the heart of the gospel. Grace is the only reason we are saved and the only reason we are able to obey the Lord at all. However, grace is not the only message of the Bible (Eph 2:8-10, 4:1, 5:1, 6:10-20). Dr. Thomas referred to this truncated message of grace which seems to ignore how rich the New Testament is in calls for holiness from God's people. "I love a truncated view of grace because I don't love holiness."
* The audio for this timely and much needed address will be available in early July.

* Dr. Thomas gave an appropriately high recommendation of Kevin DeYoung's book The Hole In Our Holiness. I would add that this book ought to be considered required reading.