Why is it that discussions of the law and sanctification invariably circle back to union with Christ? My own hunch, expressed several times, is that union becomes the way to cement sanctification to justification, especially if neither is prior to the other but union precedes both. This way, supposedly, Protestants can look Roman Catholics straight in the eye and to the charge that justification by faith alone is antinomian reply, “pound sand.”
Bill Evans stirred up the hornet’s nest with some contested hypotheses about the different emphases in Reformed circles as demonstrated in an exchange between Kevin DeYoung and the grandson of Billy Graham whose name I cannot pronounce or spell without buying a couple more vowels. Evans appealed to union to once again cut the Gordian knot between the forensic and moral renovation, but that did not satisfy Sean Lucas or Rick Philips. (Jared Oliphint has a good list of the various iterations of this discussion.)
Since so many have weighed in on Evans’ provocations, I will only make one brief comment about his initial post. He wrote this, which I believe to be typical of the kind of confusion that comes when asserting the simultaneity and denying the priority of justification and sanctification:
. . . it is unconvincing to suggest that Paul does not use the expectations and sanctions of the law as a motive for sanctification. More than once the Apostle provides extensive vice lists of behavior forbidden by the law of God, adding that those who behave thus “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-5). That sounds like motivation to me!
Well, a quick check of Calvin’s commentary on that passage in Galatians (recently preached by my pastor) shows that the Geneva pastor did not interpret Paul to be motivating believers to obey God’s law “or else.” On Calvin Galatians 5:21, Calvin writes:
Paul does not threaten that all who have sinned, but that all who remain impenitent, shall be excluded from the kingdom of God. The saints themselves often fall into grievous sins, but they return to the path of righteousness, “that which they do they allow not,” (Rom. vii. 15) and therefore they are not included in this catalogue.
In fact, gratitude, not fear of punishment, is the chief motivation for the Christian life throughout the most influential Reformed creeds.
I will also express some bafflement at Rick Phillips denial of any legitimacy to the idea that justification “causes” sanctification when he can assert that union “causes” justification and sanctification. If causal language is a problem for justification priority folks, why can causal language (which justification prioritoryists seldom use crudely) be applied to union?
Jared Oliphint tries to bring the whole question of the relation between justification and sanctification or between the indicative and the imperative back to the historia salutis.
Eschatology. Eschatology. Eschatology. It may initially sound foreign, but eschatology is the background of and essential to the gospel. What sets the stage for how we are justified, how we are sanctified, and what’s called the “order of salvation” is what was accomplished in history by Christ to make possible those benefits you receive by being in Christ; the history of salvation is the context for the gospel and your own personal salvation.
But the appeal to the historia soon swerves back to micromanaging the ordo salutis:
Because of the already/not yet aspect to all of reality now, that reality must inform discussions regarding the gospel, salvation, what Christ has done, what he will do, etc. There is a sense (already) in which we are no more justified or sanctified now than we ever will be, even in the new heavens and the new earth. But there is another (not yet) sense where there is still work to be done in us and with God’s unredeemed, temporary creation. While this already/not yet tension is still a reality here while our Lord tarries, the indicative of who we are as believers united with Christ and receiving every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3) as a result is never in tension with what God calls us to do here as his sons and daughters in Christ.
As an aside, do unionists ever talk about union being already/not yet? If eschatology goes all the way down and colors all the benefits of redemption, then the answer would appear to be “yes.” But the permanence and necessity of union never seems to allow for a concession that union also partakes of the two-age construction.
Yet, when Oliphint tries to clarify the relationship between justification and sanctification from the perspective of union and the historia salutis, he winds up with an explanation that adds very little to or resolves the recent discussions.
When sanctification is defined as “getting used to your justification” or “forgetting about yourself” and the law and the gospel/grace are in a tug of war of emphasis, do you not see that the entire crucial context and substructure of what Christ accomplished and how he applies it in your life is missing? Sanctification is a dying to sin and rising with Christ and has so much more to do with what Christ did for you than in your disposition of just letting the reality of the benefit of judicially being declared righteous sink in; not to mention the need to distinguish for clarity’s sake the difference between being definitively sanctified (1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; Heb 10:10,14) through our union with Christ and progressively sanctified (Rom 12:2) over time in the life of believers.
That sounds awfully antinomian. Sanctification has to do with what Christ did. So my imaginary Roman Catholic interlocutor is now wondering why the Reformed doctrine of sanctification or union does not lead to complacency? After all, Christ did it all.
To avoid that charge, Oliphint resorts to a legal “must”:
As redeemed believers we must do good works “for Jesus” as God works in us progressively to sanctify and we must do so as good and faithful servants of the Savior who requires that of us, but not do them from a false motivation to earn our salvation already achieved for us by Christ. We obey as God’s new creatures, groaning with creation for our Savior to come and complete his work in us.
This attempted resolution is not necessarily wrong. Neither is it particularly different, despite all the gloss of Vos, from what Reformed theologians have tried to say about God at work in the believer as the believer works. Another way of saying this is the third use of the law. We needed the historia salutis for that?
From my blinkered theological mind, the big question seems to be how the law functions in the life of the believer and in what way it is necessary. Here the Shorter Catechism appears to be remarkably helpful. It distinguishes two sets of requirements.
The first is what are the duties God requires of man (39)? This is the lead question for the explanation of the Decalogue. And second, after the law is parsed, the catechism asks another “require” question: What does God require of us that we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin (85)? (Notice the difference between the law required of all men and the requirements associated with the “us” of the redeemed.) From here the catechism goes on to discuss the means of grace.
A recognition of these distinct requirements and their stated audiences plausibly leads to the conclusion that the law is not a means of grace. Clearly, the law is not in view when the catechism explicitly addresses the means of grace – that is, word, sacrament, and prayer. This doesn’t mean that the law is bad, not to be followed, or not a standard of conduct. But following the law as a requirement does not contribute to justification – or to sanctification, for that matter. Attending to the means of grace, however, does contribute to salvation as a way of reassuring believers that God has promised to save them from their sins.
In other words, following the law is only the fruit of salvation, not the means of salvation (which includes justification and sanctification).
One last thought: since starting this post I see that Evans cannot let Oliphint or others have the last word, and so he writes this:
I firmly believe that balance in the Christian life is possible and that our people see the glory of God not only in the grace of justification but also in the demands of God’s law and in the way that the whole of Scripture marvelously fits together–what WCF 1.5 calls “the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and the entire perfection thereof.” And to this end we must proclaim the whole counsel of God. This means that we proclaim the imperatives of transformation as well as the gratuity of justification. Furthermore, we must do this without separating them, for both are found in Christ. Law without grace and mercy is just as unbalanced as grace and mercy without law.
As mechanical and confusing as “the imperatives of transformation” and the “gratuity of justification” as a formulation is, I don’t understand how Evans is not attaching an “or else” to “do this.” And I don’t for the life of me understand how this is a comfort, or how it does not undermine the assurance of the gospel. After all, everyone has a sense of justice and the idea that no matter what I do I belong to God because of Christ’s work on my behalf does not seem to be fair. Surely, I can prove my worth if I obey God’s law. But this is precisely what is so marvelous about the gospel, and why the law should send shivers down the spine of all people. No one can keep the law, not even the saints. That’s why good works are filthy rags. The only bleach available to make us presentable at the day of judgment is not the white hot flame of the law but the blood of Christ. Like the gospel, using a red fluid that will only stain to make ourselves clean makes no sense. But it’s the only hope for those who know that the law will always show the filth of human depravity and the dirt of good works.