Last week I was privileged to participate in a panel discussion at T4G with my fellow RTS professors Chad Van Dixhoorn, Derek Thomas, and Scott Swain. The panel was chaired by RTS’s chancellor, Ligon Duncan.
The topic was the relationship between justification and sanctification and how that relationship is played out (in good and bad ways) in the modern reformed and evangelical church. In particular, the focus was on how many churches (and pastors) today offer what could be called a “justification only” model of ministry. In an effort to protect and preserve the gospel of grace (a worthy goal), some churches significantly limit (if not cease entirely) any discussion of holiness, ethics, or morals.
There were a lot of helpful points made in the discussion, but let me highlight a few principles that emerged:
1. Christ is glorified not only in our justification. He is also glorified in our sanctification. Thus, sermons on sanctification can also be “Christ-centered.”
2. Our holiness is not an obstacle to the gospel of grace, but the purpose of it. We are created for good works.
3. There is not just a single motivation for our obedience (such as looking back to our justification). There are multiple motivations that the Bible offers, including gratefulness, the joy and blessing offered in obedience, the promise of rewards, and the threat of discipline.
4. It is not illegitimate to have sermons/messages that are largely focused on the ethics of the Christian life. Examples of this abound throughout Scripture, such as the Sermon on the Mount, the book of James, and the book of Proverbs. The indicative is the foundation for the imperative, not contrary to it.
5. The book of 1 John provides a wonderful balance between justification and sanctification by offering two seemingly contradictory declarations: (a) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves ( 1 Jn 1:8); and (b) No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him (1 Jn 3:6). But, these are not contradictory. The former is the foundation for justification, the latter the foundation for sanctification.
6. Balanced Christ-centered preaching means we can (and should) preach Christ in all his offices, prophet, priest and king. If we preach Christ as king, for example, we might naturally call our congregations to follow, submit, and obey his commands. Thus, “Christ-centered” preaching does not mean only preaching Christ in his priestly office.
In addition to these principles, several books on holiness/sanctification (and the relationship to justification) were mentioned that are worth checking out: