Monday, February 13, 2012

A Response to Kevin DeYoung and Rick Phillips on Sanctification

I was asked by a reader to respond to a Christ the Center program which discussed the issue of sanctification. The primary argument of the program is that some have over-forensicised the gospel, teaching justification as the gospel alone without regard for sanctification. This programs brings about many of the primary differences which exist among the two Confessions (Lutheran and Reformed) regarding the relation of justification and sanctification.

DeYoung argues that discussions about sanctification by grace/works or monergistic/synergistic sanctification are unnecessary as they import arguments about other soteriological benefits into discussions about the Christian's growth in holiness. For DeYoung, justification is by faith, but sanctification is through faith and striving toward holiness. This is because in justification, language of faith is receptive, receiving Christ's benefits. However, sanctification is active rather than receptive. It's my contention that sanctification, as is justification, is through faith alone. (See Acts 26:18) Not only is it through faith alone, but also occurs through the righteousness of another. It's unfortunate that Luther's contention that alien righteousness both justifies and sanctifies has been lost. For Luther, sanctification occurs through a gradual resurrection of the Christian wherein after being slain by the accusation of the law in one's flesh,God continually raises the Christian through faith in victory over sin, death, and the devil. It is solely through the work of another, one extra nos, that the Christian is sanctified.

Good works never become the essence of the Christian life. For the Reformed, justification occurs as a one time act wherein one is imputed righteous and forgiven. Yes, there are several "signs" that God gives as a reminder and assurance of this past forgiveness, such as the Supper, however, forgiveness is not continually given. For Luther, forgiveness is something that is continually received. As the Christian hears God's word proclaimed, and receives Christ in the Eucharist, God again forgives the Christians' sin and brings him victory over sin. For the Reformed, the Christian life becomes about one's works in light of once for all justification; for the Lutheran, the Christian life is about God's continual outpouring of grace through word and sacrament.

Sanctification should not be equated to the Christian's good works. Rather, the Christian's good works are a result of God's act of sanctification in us. As God continually forgives us, and resurrects us from sin to life, we respond with loving acts toward our neighbors. The Christian life is one of Eucharisto, of acts of love and service given as a thank offering for God's work on our behalf.


Martin Yee said...


Wow, sharp astute distinctions between Reformed and Lutheran concepts of sanctification. Ironically, Lutheran although speaking less about giving "glory to God" do glorify God more by letting "God be God" even in sanctification. Thanks.

Martin Yee

David Gray said...

I have to say I've never heard or read Reformed ministers or theologians teach that forgiveness is a one time event and ceases after justification. How would you pray the Lord's prayer? I've heard lots of reformed ministers enthusiastically endorse Luther's statement that the life of the Christian is to be one of daily repentance.

Where I see your comment having some applicability is in main street Evangelicalism, particularly premillenial dispensationalists (where I was born and raised). I've definitely heard it taught there although not universally by any means.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. Very clear and succinct. Thank you.

Yes, the Reformed sound confused.

Matthew said...


As a follow up, Kevin DeYoung has wrote a book called "The hole in our holiness".

You can watch a short video of him discussing this here:

It seems like much of the emphasis is based on his interpretation of Hebrews 12:14, "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord."

How does a Lutheran deal with verses like these, where the language of sanctification is active rather than receptive?