Dear Church Family,
Happy Palindrome Day! (3-13-13) – OK, it’s not a real holiday, I made it up. Now on to more serious matters.
In the sermon, this past Sunday, we examined the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the new life which is ours through faith in Christ Jesus from Galatians 2:19-20. Paul speaks of the new life as a resurrected life (v 19 – “I died to the Law, so that I might live to God”), the new life as a surrogate life (v 20 – “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me”), and the new life as a personal life (v 20 – “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God”).
Too often, this middle part (the new life as a surrogate life) is taken out of context by some when they speak of a believer’s role in sanctification as completely passive. On Sunday, I mentioned the Keswick (pronounced “kesik”) view of sanctification in this regard and the oft-quoted phrase that is used to summarize this erroneous view of sanctification: “let go and let God.” Since Sunday morning, I have had a couple of people in the congregation ask me about this, so I wanted to address this topic in this week’s reflection in a little more detail.
Pulling Sanctification into Justification
Justification is the one time act of God in which He imputes Christ’s righteousness to a person and forgives his or her sin through faith in Jesus Christ (WSC 33). Sanctification is the continuing work of God that necessarily follows justification, in which a person’s nature is continually renewed and is now able to die to sin and live unto righteousness (WSC 35). Justification and sanctification may be differentiated, but they cannot be separated.
Here’s how the Westminster Larger Catechism describes the differences between the two (WLC 77):
“Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ, in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.”
Justification is the monergistic act of God in imputing Christ’s righteousness to human beings by faith. Sanctification entails a kind of synergism between God and the redeemed man or woman. Sanctification is an infusion of God’s grace by which we are enabled to serve and live for God pursuing righteousness. In the Protestant Reformation, one of the key issues was with regard to the Roman Catholic Church’s (RCC) confusion on this issue. Basically, the teaching of the RCC pulls this idea of synergism and infusion (God’s work in sanctification) into the category of justification. The end result is a doctrine of justification by faith in Christ plus personal works of righteousness. In this view, a person must cooperate with God in justification. This is the very thing which the Apostle Paul so directly and vehemently argues against in Galatians.
Pulling Justification in Sanctification
Ironically, in the Keswick view of the Christian life, the opposite error is made: it pulls the idea of the monergistic activity of God in imputing righteousness (God’s work in justification) into the category of sanctification. In this way of thinking, “letting go and letting God” becomes the mantra for yielding to God as the sole worker in sanctification (something that properly belongs in the category of justification). To be sure, there are other deficiencies with the classic Keswick theology (a view of redeemed man has having two natures, an emphasis on ‘crisis’ experiences, the notion that Christians may obtain perfection in this life, an emphasis on quietism, creating two different classes of Christians, a pursuit of a ‘second work of grace,’ etc.), but this categorical confusion of pulling our understanding of God’s work in justification into sanctification is key.
If you are interested in learning more about the Keswick view of sanctification (its history, proponents, and influences), you may find a helpful and brief synopsis here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/mobile/article/kevindeyoung/why-let-go-and-let-god-is-a-bad-idea. By the way, my critique of this Keswick view of sanctification is not new or unique to me. B.B. Warfield was quite adamant and outspoken in his refutations of this view: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/40/40-2/40-2-pp241-258_JETS.pdf.
As a young man, and a new Christian, J.I. Packer gives voice to what many have experienced through the influence of Keswick theology: “I did try the routine of surrender and of looking to Jesus to carry me through times of temptation by squelching the temptation before it had fully articulated itself in my heart. It didn't work and that was a deeply frustrating and depressing thing. It made me feel like a pariah, an outsider, and at the age of eighteen that was pretty burdensome. In fact, it was driving me crazy.” (http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ref-rev/13-4/13-4_interview.pdf, p 169).
B.B. Warfield gives four points concerning the evangelical doctrine of sanctification (http://www.the-highway.com/sanctification_Warfield.html): (1) Through the continued supply of God’s grace, the redeemed soul cooperates with the Holy Spirit; (2) the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification is appropriated through means: the word of God, sacraments, prayer, Christian fellowship, divine discipline; (3) sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in moral purification: the transformation of the whole man, intellect, affections, and will, soul, and body; (4) growth in holiness proceeds in various degrees and is not completed until a believer passes into glory.
In contrast to the quietism of the Keswick understanding of sanctification (“let go and let God”), the Apostle Paul speaks of the Christian life as being marked by a laboring and striving after godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-10). The believer labors and strives after godliness (pursues sanctification) through self-discipline and attending to the means of grace because godliness is profitable for all things: it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (v 8). And, the believer labors and strives after godliness (pursues sanctification) through self-discipline and attending to the means of grace because he has fixed his hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (v 10).
By His divine power, God in His Son has granted to us everything that is necessary not only for life, but also for godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Through His precious and magnificent promises, we have been justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and have been granted eternal life (2 Peter 1:4). Because of this, let us apply all diligence, moral excellence, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love so that we may be useful and fruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8). In this way, let us be diligent to make certain about God’s calling and choosing us, as we remember our purification from our sins through the blood of Christ (2 Peter 1:9-10).
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch