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“Sanctification, if it is to be spoken of as something other than justification, is perhaps best defined as the art of getting used to the unconditional justification wrought by the grace of God for Jesus’ sake. … Sanctification is thus simply the art of getting used to justification. … Our sanctification consists merely in being shaped by, or getting used to, justification.”

At first glance you’d think I culled this from Tullian Tchvidjian’s blog. These are the words of Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. The first view that is examined is the Lutheran view. I’m not sure Luther himself would fully embrace this view, but it is built on many elements of his teaching (perhaps taking them farther than he intended).

Much of Forde’s chapter is largely rhetorical and polemical rather than putting for a clearly articulated understanding. In this way it also sounds like much I hear from the previously mentioned PCA pastor on the subject of sanctification.. I am left wondering with whom he is arguing for the views argued against do not reflect those of my own theological heritage. He is obsessively concerned with legalism, but offers no concern about antinomianism. As a result (or perhaps I’ve got the causality backwards) the focus is almost completely on justification.

I agree, we need to begin living as justified people who are fully accepted in light of the righteousness of Christ. Sanctification is to be pursued as justified people. But in his Lutheran logic (which often trips me up in many areas of theology) any view of progressive sanctification (righteousness imparted, not a self-improvement project) is antithetical to and undermines the free grace of God in justification. It is as if he thinks one could lose one’s justification for not being sanctified enough.

I see him making a similar error to that which Roman Catholicism make though in the opposite direction. Both end up conflating justification and sanctification. For Roman Catholic theology you cannot be justified unless you are sanctified; or, your sanctification is your justification. In Forde’s expression of Lutheran theology, your justification is your sanctification.

In Reformed Theology we make distinctions, almost to a fault, to best understand the dynamic quality of Scripture. We recognize initial or definite sanctification (which is positional, like justification) and progressive sanctification. The latter is rooted in the former. In relating texts about sanctification, Forde refers to all those about definite sanctification and ignores those about progressive sanctification.

“Doesn’t the Bible follow the declaration of grace with certain exhortations and imperatives? So the protestations go, for the most part designed to reimpose at least a minimal conditionality on the promise.”

Here is evidence of polemics, and bad polemics at that. He doesn’t deal with the biblical data (all those imperatives in Paul’s letters to CHRISTIANS), but an ad hominem attack. Obviously anyone who wants to deal with God’s commands wants to undermine God’s grace, in his mind. Rather, as a new creature in Christ I now want to please God (before I was primarily concerned with pleasing myself). As a justified man the law no longer condemns me. It still shows me where I fall short of God’s glory, but also points me to God’s glory and what it means to imitate the Father. He writes as if we only hear the law as the old man, not the new man. The law, obviously doesn’t provide any power. The Holy Spirit provides that. According to Paul the problem was never with the law, but with us as sinners. But the legalistic strawman grows wearisome quite quickly. He repeated talks about “the scheme”. of sanctification which is presented in an obviously negative light.

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Publishing is an odd thing. Some topics are flooded with titles and other topics are almost impossible to find. When a book like Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? is published you have to take notice because books on this subject are exceedingly rare in this day and age. Think perhaps for any other title on this subject published in the last 50 years? You can think of plenty on the subject of legalism, but its mirror image antinomianism is quite rare.

Mark Jones doesn’t quite lay out the book as some people might hope. That can breed some minor frustration. For instance, he really doesn’t try to define antinomianism, or better the types of antinomianism until the end of the book.

“Antinomianism must not be confused with the etymological meaning of antinomian (i.e., “against the law”). There is some overlap, of course, but the historical debates focused on more specific areas of the Christian life.”

This is not a systematic theology, but a volume on  historical theology. The primary focus on his research is the antinomian movements in Puritan England and in 1640’s New England. The reason is two-fold. First, these were disputes among people laying claim to the Reformed heritage. Second, there is a revived dispute among those laying claim to the Reformed heritage in our day. Most people I would consider to have an antinomian theology deny having such a view, usually based on the etymological meaning of the term. But when you look at the strains of antinomianism you can begin to see more clearly that some who claim they aren’t really are.

Jones works through a variety of topics in which historically antinomians have departed from mainline Reformed thinking and formulations. Jones’ main point though is not that antinomians’ error comes primarily with regard to the law but their Christology. This is similar to how Sinclair Ferguson addressed these twin errors of legalism & antinomianism in lecturing on the Marrow Controversy. The answer to both errors is the gospel in its fulness.

“Discussions and writings on holiness often lack a strong Christological basis and center.”

Part of me is tempted to expand more fully on some of the topics that Jones works through. I may “think” through a few here. But for now I will be content to lay them out very briefly.

Jones begins with the imitation of Christ. Peter notes that Christ, in addition to being our Savior, is an example to us. Much of what is written in the gospels is there for our imitation. Jesus models for us how to live by faith as fully human. Jesus lived in the power of the Spirit as an example to us as well (here Jones is similar to Sinclair Ferguson in his series Who is the Holy Spirit?). The way of holiness, Jones notes, is that is pursued by faith and in the power of the Spirit. Many of the antinomians, as Jones and Packer in his brief but excellent forward assert, limited our activity in sanctification. They essentially make sanctification monergistic like justification is. As a result they talk about Christ not only obeying for us, but in us. They sound like some hyper-Calvinists I’ve talked with who limit the use of our will. Both groups don’t have much room for Philippians 2:12-13 in their theology. There we see God works so I will will and work resulting in obedience. Both God and I will and work: synergism! In other words, Christ does not act immediately but mediately. Jones is careful to guard the difference between Christ’s impretration (redemption accomplished) and impartation (redemption applied). We see here, and elsewhere that antinomians tend to conflate justification and sanctification.

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I am approximately 50% of the way through John Frame’s mammoth The Doctrine of the Christian Life as part of his Theology of Lordship series. I thought I ought to handle this book in light the larger sections John Frame creates in the book.

Thus far this is an excellent, challenging book. It is challenging intellectually, and it is challenging spiritually. It is a book I would heartily recommend because there is so much to wrestle with here beyond just “do this” and “don’t do that.”

“The Christian life is not only a matter of following rules of morality, but a dynamic experience: living in the fallen world, in fellowship with the living God.”

The first part, Introductory Considerations, is a mere 3 chapters and 40 pages. This section is mostly orienting people to how he does theology just in case they have arrived to the series mid-stream.

He begins with the question of why we should study ethics. He admits that he has been put off by many non-Christian approaches to ethics. But since the Bible deals with ethics from beginning to end, as a Christian we should think about ethics. But we have to think about them biblically.  We have to walk between the (anti-gospel) extremes of legalism and license.

“The liberal tendency to find loopholes in the moral law, to justify apparent sin, has given casuistry a bad name. The conservative tendency toward harshness and austerity has given moralism a bad name.”

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Some more from the Westminster Confession of Faith for you.  Since I’m covering the Perseverance of the Saints today, I’ll toss out a great quote as a freebie.

“There is one grace you cannot counterfeit … the grace of perseverance.”  Gardiner Spring

Chapter XVI: Of Good Works

168. What makes a good work good?  They are works that God has commanded, done in faith by the power of the Spirit to the glory of God.

169. Is man saved by his good works?  No!

170. Why are good works necessary for a Christian?  They are fruits and evidence of saving faith (James 2).

171. Can a sinner outside of Christ do any good work? No, their acts remain sinful for they are done from an impure motive (not from the love for God- violating the 1st commandment).

172. Are the good works of believers meritorious? No, they are not meritorious.  We cannot attain eternal life through them.  Our good works are only accepted in Christ.

173. What is the motive for good works?  Our motive is to be the glory of God, and trust in His Word accompanied by love for God and gratitude for such a great salvation.

174. Is any good work ever pure? If not, then how are they accepted by God as good?  No, all our best works remain tainted by sin.  They are accepted as good by God because of Christ whose blood removes the stains from our works.

175. How would you respond to a statement such as the following: “I know people who make no profession of Christian faith and yet they live morally better than many Christians. Does that not please God? Does He take note of this?”  Outwardly they live better lives than many Christians- but Christianity is not about how righteous we are, but how Christ alone saves us.  God not only demands perfection, but truly good works flow out of a person’s love of God (Ex. 20).  Those that don’t violate the first commandment and are therefore actually sin.

 

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