Dear Church Family,
In our sermon series through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we have entered the final chapters in which Paul’s emphasis has shifted somewhat. Having made his case for the doctrine of justification by faith alone (“man is not justified by the works of the Law, but through faith in Christ Jesus,” 2:16), in chapters 5 & 6, Paul turns his attention to the doctrine of sanctification. Christians are to serve one another through love (5:13), walk by the Spirit (5:16, 25), seek the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23), bear one another’s burdens (6:1-5), sow to the Spirit (6:8), and walk by the rule of a new creation (6:15-16).
Righteousness does not come through the law (2:21), but the redeemed Christian is a new creation who now bears the fruit of the Spirit which is actually a fulfillment of the law (5:23; 6:2). The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this well: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” (WCF 11:2)
Christians have been debating the doctrine of sanctification for a long time. Amongst Christians, there is a wide variety of views with respect to the change in man’s nature at conversion, the definition of sin, the roles of the Law and the Holy Spirit, the degree of holiness which believers may expect to obtain (sinless perfection or continual growth), is the believer passive or active in his sanctification, and the list goes on.
Reformed pastors and theologians agree in many of the areas listed above: there is usually agreement concerning the definition, necessity, and nature of sanctification. However, amongst Reformed Christians, there have been many recent debates about sanctification which revolve around the motivation of sanctification.
What follows may be a bit of an oversimplification, but there are basically two schools of thought (there are many other facets and nuances in this debate, but for now we will limit ourselves to addressing what seems to be the primary difference). On one side, there are those who believe that the Bible teaches that there are various motivations which God uses to make His people more holy. On the other side, there are those who believe that the Bible teaches that there is only one motivation which God uses to make His people more holy. [Full disclosure: I’m of the former view and believe that the Bible (along with our confessional standards) teaches that God uses various means to motivate His people in the process of sanctification.]
Truth be told, I have some pastoral concerns with regard to the teaching that there is only one legitimate motivation for Christians in their pursuit of holiness. But first, it’s probably helpful to define this view so that we can better understand it. Some teach that the only motivation for sanctification and the pursuit of holiness is grace. The premise which is put forth is that believers ought not to be told what they ought to do, only what God has made them to be. In this way, they will naturally and inevitably grow in holiness and Christ-likeness.
Sometimes this view is expressed in different ways. Some people speak of how the believer ought to be only motivated by joy or satisfaction in Christ. This is sometimes referred to as “Christian Hedonism” – seeking personal joy and satisfaction in God as the only proper motivation for obedience. Others speak in terms of gratitude. The only proper motivation is thankfulness for what Christ has done on my behalf in justifying me.
Here’s why I think this “grace only” motivation in sanctification is deceptively dangerous. Responding to God’s grace in gratitude and thankfulness or pursuing joy and satisfaction in Christ is a biblical motivation for sanctification. We might even say that the redeeming grace of God, which was manifested in Christ’s becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13), is the primary motivation in our seeking to obey God and become more like Christ – but it most certainly is not the only biblical motivation in sanctification.
What is taught is true, but much is left out. And, those biblical motivations which are excluded are often derided as wrong and inappropriate. Yet, even as Christians are called to embrace the promises of the gospel in faith and seek to love and serve God with a heart that is motivated by gratitude and personal joy, the Scriptures also present other motivations for our obedience and pursuit of holiness.
At this point, I’d like to point you to an excellent article by PCA minister Terry Johnson in which he explains the modern debate among Reformed preachers. He then provides biblical evidence for a whole host of various motivations in sanctification. His article is called, “The Grace Boys” and you may read it online here:http://theaquilareport.com/the-grace-boys/. I highly recommend it; please go and read it.
Johnson’s article doesn’t name those whom he deems ‘the grace boys,’ and I have sought to try and do the same. At this point, it isn’t necessary and might not be that helpful. My main concern as a pastor is that people learn to be discerning when they hear the rhetoric of the “grace only” teaching in sanctification. There are, indeed, other problematic aspects with this kind of teaching, but it is helpful to know what to look for (or better: to be able to recognize what is missing) when people talk about motivations for sanctification. You see, it may sound correct and biblical (for much of it is), but it disregards and disparages other biblical truths. Therefore, it is deceptively dangerous.
Feeding upon all of God’s Word
Some people may think that these differences are of little consequence; however, our growth in grace as believers in Christ depends on feeding upon all of God’s Word, not just certain parts. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Because this is so, we must be careful to let the Word of God do its work, as the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth (John 16:13). As Johnson writes in the article:
”Human beings, even redeemed human beings, are complex. God uses a variety of means to motivate us. He uses carrots. He uses sticks. The richness is lost and the whole counsel of God is buried when the grace formula is imposed on every text of Scripture. In fact, distressing volumes of preaching in our day, even in our ecclesiastical circles, has become predictable, cliché, and boring. All of the Bible’s sharp edges have been blunted, ignored, or explained away in the name of grace preaching.”
May God save us from our man-made shibboleths, as we seek to know Him and do His will.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch