"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « "Save Yourselves" (Acts 2:40) | Main | The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses »

    Are We Basing Justification on Sanctification?

    There were some Rabbis in the early first century who were teaching that if all of them (the Pharisees) would just obey the whole law for a single day it would usher in the Messianic Age. Resultantly you had certain quarters of Judaism who were intent on keeping every aspect of the law. Wouldn't it be ironic if Saul (Paul), in his zeal, in the persecution of the early 1st century church, was attempting to bring about the Messianic Age? What irony there would be if, in doing so, he was fighting against the very thing (Jesus) he was trying to bring about?

    We must also take heed lest we take our eyes off of Christ in an attempt to fulfill God's purpose in some performance-based way. Or to put it theologically, trying to base your justification on your sanctification, to which the book of Galatians says, "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3) This solemn warning from Paul (who, since the Damascus road, now understood grace) that humans are in constant danger of exchanging God's grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ for merit-based Christianity. This is not only a problem with many 1st century Jews but is a human problem, something we are all prone to, for we really want to feel as if we are somehow contributing to the price of our redemption. We would never say it this way, but such feelings are innate, subtle and deadly. Thus the need to preach the gospel to ourselves, as Christians, every day, reminding ourselves that we are united to Christ, are to glory in Him and have no confidence in the flesh. All merit/performance/works based righteousness in inimical to the gospel of salvation. But thanks be to God, the gospel liberates us from all such moralism, that is, all attempts to attain our maintain our justification before God through self-effort.

    The gospel is not only for unbelievers but reminds Christians daily of our need of Jesus Christ. When Jesus tells us to abide in Him, it is a call to forsake trust in self, even as a Christian. God must not only fill our minds and direct our behavior, but must fill our hearts as the continual object of our adoration. We must NEVER fall into the trap of believing that what God does for us depends first on what we do for God. If your purpose of reading the Bible, praying, giving etc. is not springing from a new heart out of love for what God has already accomplished for you once for all in Christ, but rather is slavishly given in the hope of getting God's favor or even maintaining our just standing before God then you need to recall the gospel to mind. Have you so quickly forgotten it? God's grace cannot be earned before or after salvation. It only comes free. Only in fleeing to Christ do good works flow out of a renewed heart.

    The gospel is our only way out of moralism. Jesus Christ has already done everything necessary for your just standing before God. So reject your own righteousness, and repent of trusting in your good works, in your virtue or politics for they fall woefully short of Christ. Trusting anything else in addition to Christ is nothing less that to erroneously believe that His work on the cross is insufficient. So cast out the inner Pharisee that daily whispers in your ear that God's love for you is conditional, depending what level you have reached in the Christian life. This moralism or merit-based Christianity is difficult to leave behind, but YOU MUST DO SO because it denies the grace of God. You are saved by grace and you must live and be sanctified by grace as well.

    One of the reasons I bring this up is because there are and always have been errors in the church regarding this important issue. While it is indeed true that justification is now and in the future. Our initial justification is received by faith alone and we also await the future consummation of our redemption. There is indeed an already/not yet aspect to our justification. But according to some new perspectives, future justification, acquittal at judgment day, always takes place on the basis of the totality of the life lived. This raises the very important question as to whether they believe the sinner must maintain his own just standing before God through his own covenantal faithfulness. In other words, does justification partly depend on the sinner?. If so I contend they are in serious danger of affirming that what Christ accomplished is not itself sufficient. It is a rejection of salvation by grace alone from beginning to end. We all agree that the Christian must obey, the question is, does He obey because of a desire springing from his new nature in Christ, or does he obey in order to maintain his just standing before God? The sufficiency of Christ is at stake here. Has the Holy Spirit been granted him as a deposit guaranteeing his redemption, or does our doings contribute something on top of Christ's work? We affirm that Christians must indeed persevere to the end (Col 1:21-23, 1 John 1:5-10; 3:3-6, Hebrews 10:26-31, Hebrews 12:1), but the Scripture likewise affirms that true Christians will persevere to the end, because Christ preserves them. (John 6:38-40, 10:28-29, 15:16, Romans 8:28-39, Philippians 1:4-6, Philippians 2:12-13, 1 John 2:19).

    Solus Christus
    John H

    Posted by John on August 24, 2006 04:04 PM


    Yes, I see that you mentioned politics in your post. Exactly! Trying to make America more moral rather than getting out the gospel is a waste of immense amounts of precious resources, time, money, human energy. It doesn't matter whether you go to hell as a prostitute or a judge. It only matters that you go to hell. All this effort to take back America by making it a moral nation. Can the "leopard change his spots"? Can the "Ethiopian change his skin"? (apart from grace) So says the prophet. Are you able to become something other than you are? It's a total waste of resources. Ephesians 5:16 says: "Make the most of your time, because the days are evil. And understand what the will of the Lord is" and don't be foolish. To preach the message of reconciliation is the Lord's will. It's to preach the gospel. That's the will of the Lord. And to do something else is to be "foolish," to waste time. I'm not interested in making this country moral. I'm interested in bringing people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, so that He can recreate them so they will become moral.

    Funny how one single word can trigger a response that comes out of nowhere! I guess John's point (an excellent one, as always) is that regardless of our good works, good politics, and good virtues we fall way short of God's moral standard, and thus we are guilty and in need of salvation. The whole point of justification by faith alone is that before we are justified (declared not guilty) we are not able to do anything that measures up to God's moral perfection, which He demands.

    Another point is that we often are short-sighted in our view of the world. Jesus came to call individual sinner to repent, and He did not come to initiate an earthly kingdom. Nevertheless, many Christians (William Wilberforce for one) understood that when individual sinners come to Christ, God often uses them collectively to do "politically" good to the society as a whole. It is our Christian duty to preach the gospel to people, but it is also our calling to uphold the Biblical standards in our daily walk as a moral citizen here on earth (and on heaven).

    Johny M

    Please don't make being salt and light in the culture opposed to evangelism. They go hand in hand. A Christian with a vocational calling to politics is going to write law based in God's moral law. That same politician will also be used of God to ensure the freedom of Christian pastors and lay persons to evangelize the nation and the world. Christian pastors should influence their congregations to vote for those men and women who will govern justly and fight for the unborn, elderly, etc.


    Excellent post and I whole heartedly agree with 99 percent of it. (Even emailed it to ten of my closest friends). However, although God bases our justification on faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, there are conditional promises in the Bible which Christians (under God's providence and purposes) can either obtain or forfeit based on their actions before God. Hebrews 11, the hall of faith, plainly sets forth examples of Christians obtaining promises, while others not to obtain a better resurrection. Don't forget the bible does have a doctrine of rewards for those Christians who live a life of faithful service to God. (Sproul teaches this doctrine) (Not trying to pick, I know the article was focused on justification.)

    "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. "
    2 Corinthians 5:10

    "10 For "He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. 11 Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." " 1 Peter 3:10-12

    Gentlemen, Alan, Fred, Johny...Many thanks for the encouraging comments.

    Alan you said>>> there are conditional promises in the Bible which Christians (under God's providence and purposes) can either obtain or forfeit based on their actions before God.

    Appreciate your thoughts and reminder about rewards. Yes I would agree, through rewards are still those things which spring from our new nature, thus the glory going to Christ. We only grow in grace and do works worthy of rewards as we abide in Christ. Works, proceeding from the good root of our union with Christ, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification — for by the grace of Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

    Here is a great related John Murray quote:

    While it makes void the gospel to introduce works in connection with justification, nevertheless works done in faith, from the motive of love to God, in obedience to the revealed will of God and to the end of his glory are intrinsically good and acceptable to God. As such they will be the criterion of reward in the life to come. This is apparent from such passages as Matthew 10:41; 1 Corinthians 3:8-9, 11-15; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:7.

    We must maintain therefore, justification complete and irrevocable by grace through faith and apart from works, and at the same time, future reward according to works. In reference to these two doctrines it is important to observe the following:

    1) This future reward is not justification and contributes nothing to that which constitutes justification.
    2) This future reward is not salvation. Salvation is by grace and it is not as a reward for works that we are saved.
    3) The reward has reference to the station a person is to occupy in glory and does not have reference to the gift of glory itself. While the reward is of grace yet the standard or criterion of judgment by which the degree of reward is to be determined is good works.
    4) This reward is not administered because good works earn or merit reward, but because God is graciously pleased to reward them.
    (John Murray - Collected Writings, vol. II, p. 221)

    John H


    The book of Hebrews teaches us that our justification is conditional on our perservance. I think you make this point in your post, but we need to make sure we don't subtly imply that once we are professing members of Christ's body, that we can "let go and let God"; the warnings in Hebrews should be applied to the church that we may search our hearts and ensure our salvation to the end.



    Thanks for your post. But no I do not make this point at all. Indeed true Christs WILL persevere but this has nothing to do with the maintenance of their Justification. On the contrary, it proves their justificaiton is real. It demonstrates life, it does not maintain it.

    The passage that warns the Hebrews against falling away is warning them against one thing: abandoning trust in Christ alone by going back to now worthless and obsolete things, such as trusting in the temple sacrifice and the Law in order to be justified. The warnings are given to those in the community that they would not be tempted to turn from trusting Jesus alone (who is God over all) for some lesser or meaningless ritual act that supposedly now can curry God's favor. Trusting in anything except Christ alone, who is the light that scatters all shadows, is said to be tantamount to "trampling under foot the Son of God" believing that His once of all sacrifice is insufficient in itself to save. If something in place of, or in addition to, Jesus is trusted in it is no different than a denial of Him. So in context, the persons who go back by trading in Christ for the now-empty ritual of the temple (that itself was meant to point to the fulfillment in Christ), are then re-crucifying the Son to their shame. Hebrews 6:4-8 is often read in isolation apart from this context.

    The very assertion that a Christian can lose their salvation is tantamount to saying that what Christ accomplished on the cross was insufficient to save completely and so you need to trust in yourself to maintain your own righteousness, and this is not unlike Roman Catholic theology. To say Christ can lose us is the same as believing that what Christ did is not enough for someone... That you MUST MAINTAIN YOUR OWN JUSTIFICATION.

    This is a form of legalistic self-justification to believe that you can either attain or maintain your own righteousness before God and it is itself a denial of Christ, the very error the Hebrews were tempted to make, that the author was speaking of. In fact this is a backdoor to the Galatian heresy where Paul says, "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3) To believe one can lose salvation, therefore, is trusting in something other than Jesus Christ to keep you righteous in Him. The Hebrews were tempted to go back to temple sacrifice (trusting in something other than Christ) and the doctrine that one can lose salvation is likewise trusting in ones' own moral ability to maintain a just standing before God, since Jesus, according to them, is unable to save completely those who He came to save. Either we are trusting in Christ alone to both attain and maintain our justification or we are trusting in something worthless which the author of Hebrews gives severe warnings about.

    No one speaks of letting go and letting God. We speak of continually fleeing to Christ and not trusting in ANYTHING else. Falling away would therefore be defined by trusting in your self-effort or perseverance. These are products of salvation not the cause of them nor the maintenence of them.

    justificaiton is conditional on one thing: Christ. We are commanded to persevere but Christ also promised that we will persevere because Christ upholds us. It is heretical to claim that we must maintain our justificaiton, which appears to be the real danger in your comment. I believe this is the very error that the Auburn Avenue/Federal Vision folks are making.

    Clarification: I'm not implying that we need to "maintain our justification". Our justification proves itself in the fact that we persevere to the end.(and this perseverance is assured by the Cross.) Are you implying that the warnings in Hebrews 10:26-39 are not applicable to "professing Christians" in the visible church?

    Mike you asked >>>>Are you implying that the warnings in Hebrews 10:26-39 are not applicable to "professing Christians" in the visible church?

    The key word here is "visible church". What I am denying is your statement that our "justification is conditional on our perservance." Warnings and calls to perseverance goes out to the whole church, but the regenerate, who have life in them will use the means of these exhortations as well as the Lord's Supper to perservere. It is not possible for the regenerate to lose their regeneration, as the Auburn folks teach. This is to deny the sufficiency of Christ alone.

    Nowhere am I implying that the regenerate can lose their regeneration. I'm simply holding out the balance of scripture that professing Christians prove their justification (merited only by Christ's active and passive obedience) by persevering to the end.
    I'll let you contend w/ Edwards on the congruity of perseverance and justification:
    428. Perseverance in faith is, in one sense, the condition of justification: that is, the promise of acceptance is made only to a persevering sort of faith, and the proper evidence of its being of that sort is actual perseverance. Not but that a man may have good evidences that his faith is of that sort, before he has finished his perseverance, yea, the first time that he exercises such a faith, if the exercises of it are lively and vigorous. But when the believer has those vigorous exercises of faith, by which he has clear evidences of its being of a persevering kind, he evermore feels most disposition and resolution to persevere, and most of a spirit of dependence upon God and Christ to enable him so to

    I have been coming to Monergism for over a year now and it is my favorite site. It is because of your strong and patient defence of the Faith that I like the most. I have been a christian for over twenty five years and still shocked that people leave historic Calvinism. Because that is what I think they are doing when they say that a person can "lose" their salvation.

    And I think that a Christian who is not voting, and expecting other Christians to vote. (I do mean being involved in "politics" too) Should be looked at as a possible wolf in sheeps clothing.

    While its true that we don't want to base our Justification on our Sanctification the contrary is equally true. I think the essay by Ryle from your site is very helpful in avoiding confusion. Sanctification involves effort. Calvin says that we should manfully strive after righteousness. WCF says that Sanctification involves an infusion of righteousness as opposed to Justification which involves a imputation.

    Tim S.


    Absolutely. No disagreement here. Not only do Calvin and Ryle teach this, but the Bible teaches it. Antinomianism is a bane on the church. If you read the last paragraph of my post, it also conveys the fact that Christians must obey. But their obedience springs from a renewed heart that loves God. Not something that can be worked up by the unregenerate. About as likely as a thornbush producing figs.

    Nice to hear from you

    What do we do with the concept (found in almost all of the Apostle John's work)that love for God is shown by obeying the commandments?


    Thanks for the excellent inquiry. Neither justification nor sanctification are based on each other. But both are based in our union with Christ.

    The faith in Christ which justifies springs from our initial regeneration and union with Christ. Likewise our obedience and love for Christ springs from our union with Christ.

    In other words, when we hear exhortations to obey, as regenerate believers, it rings true, beautiful and excellent to us because we have a renewed heart and the mind of Christ which loves Him. Our love of Christ, our faith in Christ, and our desire to obey ALL of His commands spring from our union with Christ. Our obedience demonstrates the reality of the union we have with Christ. If we are indifferent or do not desire to obey it demonstrates the likelihood that we are not united to Christ for our love is still for the world and with an indifference or hostility toward Christ.

    We affirm the Lordship of Christ and that all Christain believers will obey to demonstrate the reality of their union with Christ but we deny that obedience in any way causes or maintains our justification. To do so would be to declare that the work of Christ is insufficient. We are now the children of God. The Holy Spirit indwells us and seals us guaranteeing the life to come. It is not a question of whether Christaisn will obey or not. They will ... inperfectly no doubt, but the love of Christ which the Spirit has wrought in their hearts constrains them to obey.

    see 1 John 2:19-20; Matthew 7:21-23; Romans 9:6 as explained in the following post:


    I love your site. It's been a true blessing for me. In reading your post, I am guessing that you are quoting Wright, which appears to say our life or good works are the meriting basis for final justification, but in fact I think Wright means that it is the evidential basis, which appears to be similar to John Piper's view. I tried to compare their respective views of final justification here:




    Thanks for the note about Wright. The New Perspectives is not a homogenous movement. There are those, even within Presbyterian and Reformed circles who say that regeneration (and union with Christ) can actually be lost after once having it and can only be maintained by our "covenantal faithfulness". The movement is called the "Federal Vision" or "Auburn Avenue theology", influenced by NT Wright but not exactly the same.

    You may be interesed to note, however, a new book that John Piper intends to write to oppose NTW's views on justification so I think even these two men's beliefs are sharply different. Note the following:

    John Piper to Write Book in Response to N.T. Wright
    NEWS: August 2, 2006. John Piper is writing a new book which he says, "is a response to N. T. Wright on the doctrine of justification. I have no immediate plan to publish it until I get the feedback from critical readers. My motivation in writing it is that I think his understanding of Paul is wrong and his view of justification is harmful to the church and to the human soul. Few things are more precious than the truth of justification by faith alone because of Christ alone. As a shepherd of a flock of God’s blood-bought church, I feel responsible to lead the sheep to life-giving pastures. That is not what the sheep find in Wright’s view of Paul on justification. He is an eloquent and influential writer and is, I believe, misleading many people on the doctrine of justification. I will keep you posted on what becomes of this manuscript."


    Yeah I know Piper, who is my all-time Christian hero, is writing that book, in fact, I created a "fake interview between piper and wright" in order to show that their view of justification are not substantial different. But i could be wrong. Also i just don't see how Piper could considers Wright to be "harmful to the church" in his view of justification, if he not teaching a form of merit theology. I really hope Piper's book finds something harmful in Wright's view of justification, besides merit theology.You can find my fake interviews here:

    Also, I am not too familar with FV and AA theology, but based on my reading of Within The Bounds of Orthodoxy: An Examination of Both the Federal Vision and the New Perspectives on Paul" by Joseph Minich, I didn't get the impression "regenerate could loose their salvation". Have you read this article yet? It also has a good selection on Wright. In fact, John Frame endorsed it.




    Well hopefully NTW will speak plainly some day so that all the mess can be cleared up. If it is simply a matter of emphasis, that is one thing, but outright denial of justification by grace through faith is another. We all agree this springs from our union with Christ. Does he believe in instant justification AS WELL AS our acquital at the last day ... the first (along with union with Christ) guaranteeing the final justificaton????

    You can defend him, but the debate could be over in a day if he just spoke plainly and just defended himself. Why doesn't he? If it is as simple as you say, lets hear it in plain English.

    Wright writes:

    The 'faith' in question is faith in 'the God who raised Jesus from the dead'. It comes about through the announcement of God's word, the gospel, which works powerfully in the hearts of hearers, 'calling' them to believe, or indeed (as Paul often puts it) to 'obey' the gospel (Rom. 1.16f.; 1 Thess. 1.3f., 2.13; 2 Thess. 1.8). This faith looks backwards to what God has done in Christ, by means of his own obedient faithfulness to God's purpose (Rom. 5.19; Phil. 2.6), relying on that rather than on anything that is true of oneself. For Paul, this meant refusing to regard the badges of Jewish law-observance ('the works of the law') as the decisive factor (Phil. 3.2-11). And it looks forward to the final day: because this faith is the first sign of new God-given life, it is the appropriate anticipation of the final verdict, which is guaranteed by the same Spirit who inspired faith (2 Cor. 1.22; Phil. 1.6).” - N.T. Wright, “The Shape of Justification”

    Honestly John, I think he has tried to speak plainly in his view of justification, especially after his book on "what paul really said". Wright has written a bunch of articles explaining his view on justification and had that conference with Richard Gaffin. There are definitely disagreements in his view of justification as compared to the reformed tradition, but i think Wright has tried plainly to show that it's not one of merit theology.



    I am glad to hear and and that you think so. I like NTW a lot in his historical analysis except his erroneous belief that first century Jews were not moralistic, sothing as humans we all have a tendency toward. This view is what gave rise to the problem in the first place and it is all through his works. I have personal read and benefitted from many of his books but have serious problems with this ideas because it is dead wrong both historically and theologically.

    Again does our initial union with Christ guarantee justification at the last day, according to Wright, or is it based on the "life lived"?

    sorry, i left this off my last post.

    "Wright definitely believes that final justification is guaranteed by union with Christ found in present justification."

    And wright would use the language that final justification is based on our the "entirety of our life", but again, it is an evidental basis, not one of merit


    One thing I notice in NTWs writings is that he interacts a lot with liberal scholars when making his arguments. He clearly presents their position in their own words and does a good job refuting them by interacting with extensive quotes. Yet when he speaks of the conservative position to critique it, he usually fails to reference conservative scholars or theologicans who made the claims he is interacting with but often sweeps them aside and paints them with a caricature about what they believe without evidence or footnotes. I find this irritating to say the least. I like him and much of what he has to say but I do not think he really knows what the Reformed tradition actually affirms ...yet he makes comments about it as if he does but without footnotes. At those times I always wonder who he is talking about and who he is crtitiquing and who actually believes things the way he describes them.

    He would do well to actually intract with real conservative scholars and base his opinions on what they say rather than some obscure impression he has of what they might be saying, or perhaps some bad experience he himself has had with a church cause most of the time it is presenting the line of reasoning quite inaccuratly. If he did this, much of the problems arising from his theology may have been easily avoided, if what you say about him is true.

    TThanks John H.

    The worry of impeding license in the body will always crop up when the pure Gospel is preached. We are lawyers by nature and will ever look to ourselves for some part of our standing with God (even if we reduce it to a purely subjective check on our sanctification). The Law we know by heart; The Gospel we must receive, straight up with no chaser, if we are to have any hope of even the most feeble scratches of obedience in this life.

    And I am with Johnny M. Politics and religion are mutually exclusive. Politics is, by definition, coercion and violence while true religion is love and peace. Obey the state as your conscience dictates (including voting in democracies), but realize that it is NOT the vehicle for the moral conversion of society...that task can only be fulfilled by the Gospel.


    I may have to quote your paragraph on the "worry of impending licence" sometime. Great stuff


    XI.V. God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified;[14] and although they can never fall from the state of justification,[15] yet they may, by their sins, fall under God's fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.[16]
    Perhaps you could comment on this section of the WCF. It teaches that even though justified, our sin can invoke God’s fatherly displeasure and when and if we should find ourselves in such a state we should repent so as to restore God’s good pleasure. It seems that there is a sense that one cannot simply trust to Christ for the continuance of God’s fatherly good favor. Here, personal repentance and hence personal and not alien righteousness is required.

    Tim S.


    I think the key word here that you use is "fatherly". Those already in covenant with God may greivously sin against Him, and although this raises God's displeasure, this does not lead to the loss of the adoptive covenant relationship. Our sin is not greater than Christ's blood of the covenant. The same may be said to be true when we sin against our parents. The sin does not mean we are no longer their children.

    Consider the following passage speaking to believers:
    1 Corinthians 11:30-32
    "But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world."

    This passage teaches that God's judgement against believers is not one of condemnation but of discipline that we may further conform to Christ. A true believer will never be left comfortable in their sin but the Lord will bring conviction and always draw them back to himself, whether we judge ourselves (through confession & repentance) or if God disciplines us. One or the other will result.


    I haven’t followed much of the Federal Vision controversy other than the writing of Doug Wilson. I have never heard him say that a regenerate person can lose his salvation. I have heard him say that not all those in the covenant are elect, i.e. there are baptized reprobates within the visible church. From time to time these reprobates give evidence to their unregenerate status by falling away. To someone whose theology conflates covenant with election this might look like losing one’s salvation, but properly understood it would not entail such.

    Additionally, I heard Wilson affirm that Justification is by faith alone. However, he did seem to say that our personal righteousness can “justify our justification”. He referred to the passage in James which mentions being justified by works. I took him to mean something a kin to what you yourself alluded to in one of your earlier posts. You write in response to Mike:
    “Thanks for your post. But no I do not make this point at all. Indeed true Christs WILL persevere but this has nothing to do with the maintenance of their Justification. On the contrary, it proves their justification is real. It demonstrates life, it does not maintain it.”
    Your use of “proves” seems to me to be similar to Wilson’s use of “justifies”. When Wilson uses justifies he seems to use it in two different senses: one juridical, the other epistemological. Alien righteousness (Christ’s) alone justifies in a juridical sense. His is the only perfect righteousness and his is the only that can save; how could it be otherwise? Personal righteousness, which is the sign of repentance, is a visible sign of the power of the Holy Spirit working in the believer and “gives evidence”, “proves”, or “justifies”, that one possesses saving faith because the faith that justifies also sanctifies. Used in this sense, personal righteousness helps justify a sense on assurance that one’s faith is genuine.
    Tim S.

    Tim ...I wish that were the case, but I have read quite a bit and I believe your're wrong about them here. Federal Vision openly teaches that a person can become regenerate and then become unregenerate at some later stage. They confuse those outwardly in the covenant and the regenerate ..i.e they make little to no distinction between the visible and invisible church.

    Steve Wilkins says: "If we do not persevere, we lose the blessings that were given to us in God's covenant. Thus, when one breaks the covenant, it can be truly said, he has turned away from grace and forfeited life, forgiveness, and salvation.... the apostate lose the forgiveness that was theirs really and truly in the covenant.... they are viewed as being in possession of this great salvation but of allowing it to 'slip away'.... they may enjoy for a season many of the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc., and yet apostatize and fall short of the grace of God.... That which makes apostasy so horrible is that these blessings actually belonged to the apostates.... They lose something they actually possessed.... The distinction of 'external' and 'internal' union are invented and not in the text [Jn. 15:1-8]"("The Covenant and Apostasy," tape 1).

    Doug Wilson says "perseverance, this is difficult because the perseverance of the saints is the one point of Calvinism that is popular. All right, all the rest we hate the more, yes, we hate them. Perseverance, you mean I can't lose my salvation once I get saved? I can't lose it? Who? Well, but that is the most popular tenet of Calvinism and when you are looking at the Scripture as they present themselves to us in the light of our system, it is the least defensible" ("Visible and Invisible Church Revisited," tape 2).

    What of the following passages: Ps. 37:28; 121:3, 7-8; Jer. 32:40; Mt. 24:24; Mk. 13:22; Jn. 6:39; 10:27-29; 17:11; Rom. 14:4; 16:25; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 9:8; Eph. 5:28; Phil. 1:6; 1 Th. 5:23-24; 2 Th. 3:3; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18; Heb. 12:2; 1 Pet. 1:4-5; Jude 1, 24, etc.

    With regard to apostasy Wilson affirms there was a reality to the experience of the apostate in Hebrews. "The cut-away branch [he says] has no fruit (which is why it was cut away) - but it had sap (which is why it had to be cut away). Wilson - Reformed is not enought pg. 132.

    Does not "had sap" refer to our vital union with Christ?

    Quoting John 15:16 Wilson argues that "one cast out as a branch was a branch, and not some bit of tumbleweed caught in the branches. So there is such a thing as a genuine covenantal connection to Christ which is not salvific in the last day." (pg 133)

    Later he argues that ... "branches can lose their position on the tree. You can be on the tree, someone can be right there next to you and he is as much on the tree as you are, he's as much a partaker of Christ as you are, he is as much a member of Christ as you and and he is cut away and you and not and you stand by faith, so don't be haughty but fear." (Wilson Visible and Invisible Church revisited)

    But, on the contrary, we affirm that regeneration always bring about saving faith, repentance and sanctification (1 Cor. 2:12; 2 Cor. 4:6; Ac. 5:21; 11:18; 16:13-14; 1 Jn. 2:29; 3:9). Regeneration is also connected in Scripture to perseverance, for John says that a person who is born again cannot habitually continue in sin (1 Jn. 2:29; 3:9; cf. 5:4). The Bible says that everyone who is born again cannot be harmed by the second death (Rev. 20:6).

    The Auburn Avenue theologians’ rejection of the Reformed distinction between the visible and invisible church causes them to reject or ignore the past tense, one-time, non-repeatable, non-losable, nature of our union with Christ. Apostasy is not viewed by FV as the result of false faith (people who were never saved to begin with; see 1 Jn. 2:19; Mt. 7:23) but is the result of a failure to obey on the part of real, justified, regenerate believers.

    "The worry of impeding license in the body will always crop up when the pure Gospel is preached. We are lawyers by nature and will ever look to ourselves for some part of our standing with God (even if we reduce it to a purely subjective check on our sanctification)."

    Very well said and so true. I once confronted a Pastor friend of mine on why he didn't emphasize God's sovereingty in sanctification when it was evident from the text and he admitted this very thing, that he was afraid people would take it as a license to not strive after righteousness. My response was, like John said above, that God's sovereingty would not allow that. That a true child of God is compelled to obey and love by their new nature, however imperfectly. The fact that one truly desires to obey God is a manifestation of God's grace. I think this is another thing that trips people up: that God doesn't make us perfectly free from sin all at once, so people assume that it must be up to them.


    Thank you, brother, for your labours on this and so much more.

    Rob’s point on “the worry of impending license”; how this worry can drive us to Galatian legalism:-

    Reformed theologians know the truth of JBGTF (justification by grace through faith) but we need to be as clear that sanctification is no different, ie SBGTF. Indeed true obedience is also OBGTF since, as you imply, we are to “obey because of a desire springing from [our] new nature in Christ”.

    Once we appreciate that God causes all three, we can see that all three are monergistic (done by one person, God). In the case of the obedience that is required of man, we fail however to distinguish properly between God’s causality (of our obedience) and man’s agency (that man is the tool God uses in the sense that an axe is the tool a man uses to chop down a tree). Instead we start to see God and man as synergistic, cooperating partners, not necessarily 50:50 partners, maybe even only 99:1 partners.

    But by seeing ourselves as synergistic partners with God on sanctification/obedience, we then blame ourselves when we see that our grace-driven true obedience (rising from “our desire in the new nature”) is clearly imperfect. Perhaps we do not believe that God can finish what he has started, so we then supplement it with our own more effort-driven obedience. But when is this second obedience spiritually appropriate (a form of Pauline self-control) and when is it really a fear that Christ’s death is insufficient unless we supplement it?

    We know that only God can give us a willing spirit, but until that happens, we lock up our unwilling spirit - is that biblical, or is it repression? Luther told Melanchthon “be a sinner and sin boldly” (but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly). Clearly we are not to yield our members to licence, but we must not return to legalism because we fear licence. Did Luther see in his colleague what Paul saw in Peter – a creeping, intrinsically fearful return to the law? (Galatians).

    In his commentary on Phil 2.12, Calvin distinguishes the godly fear that dissolves arrogance from ‘hesitation’ (the wrong fear that dissolves our assurance of salvation). We might now teach JBGTF correctly, but are we also teaching a full-blooded doctrine of SBGTF? If we are not, we will slowly commit the Galatian heresy, undermining both JBGTF and assurance.

    Grateful for your comments/help

    John H.

    Feel free… I am flattered.

    The Spirit uses the preaching of the Law to break the conscience of the elect and bring them to conviction of sin and repentance, but this is not the Law as “how shall we then live”…ethics. The Law as it relates to our behavior is to be a guide as how we may best act in love toward God and our fellow man, nothing more. It is dead wrong to use it as a measuring stick for our own progress in this life, for our reading of both our actions and the Law itself is tainted by sin. We can choose how to act in nearly every situation in life and one of those choices will usually best express love of God and neighbor while the others will be expressions of love of self. The problem is when we examine ourselves, our natural tendency is to focus on the right choices and see ourselves as “conquering”, “overcoming”, “growing”, etc. No matter how you slice it, this is self-righteousness and the only correction is the preaching of the Law in all its terror and the Gospel in all its beauty. The Spirit will use this correct exposition of Word to constantly make us despair of our own righteousness and cling all the more desperately to the righteousness of Christ. The perfect irony is that it is from this state we are most likely to act in love toward God and our fellow man-to obey the Law.


    Have you read Wilson's Examination by the CREC Presbytery? It is found here. If not you should read it.

    Questions 60-69 talk about regeneration. I think he makes it pretty clear that he does not believe that a regenerate person can lose his salvation. I would like to know your thoughts about this examination. I'm including some quotes below:

    Individual Salvation
    60.Define the word “Christian”? Are all the baptized “Christian”? Are all the elect
    “Christian”?I would want to use the word in at least two senses. In one sense, a
    Christian is someone who would go to heaven if he died. Just as a true Jew is one who is one inwardly, the same is true of a true Christian. In another covenantal sense, a Christian is someone who has received Trinitarian baptism, and who is therefore covenantally obligated to repent and believe. Unconverted people may be Christian in this second sense, but not in the first. And someone numbered among the elect may be still unconverted, and not be a Christian yet in either sense.
    61.Do you believe in the necessity of the new birth? Only if you want to go to heaven.
    62. If so, what is the new birth? The new birth is the work of the Holy Spirit, whereby He takes away the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh.
    63.Would you please explain your understanding of John 3:1-11? I see Jesus admonishing Nicodemus on two levels. Jesus was teaching the absolute necessity of heart regeneration for individuals, and He was also talking about the coming rebirth of Israel, which happened at Pentecost, and which Ezekiel foretold.
    64.Do all Christians go to heaven? In the first sense described earlier, yes. In the secondsense given above, no.
    65.Are all Christians saved from eternal damnation? In the first sense described earlier,yes. In the second sense given above, no.
    66.Are all Christians regenerated? In the first sense described earlier, yes. In the second sense given above, no.
    67. If someone has been born again, may they still end up in hell? Absolutely not.
    68.Can the elect lose their salvation? Can a “Christian” lose his salvation? Can an un-baptized believer lose his salvation? No, the elect cannot. A covenant-member Christian can fall from grace, be cut out of the vine, and can apostatize. No, a regenerate person who is not baptized cannot lose his salvation.
    69. If a person apostatizes, does he lose salvation –justification, sanctification, etc. – or does he demonstrate that he was never saved? He does not lose something that was never his personal possession to begin with. This means he does not lose the imputed obedience of Jesus Christ, which he never had. But he does lose something.
    The Scriptures speak of this with different metaphors, some emphasizing the
    discontinuity all the way back—wheat/tares, brothers/false brothers, washed pig/dirty pig. Others emphasize the covenant continuity all the way back—Vine/branches, olive tree branches, etc. So such a person was never individually justified, effectually called, etc. But he is falling away from grace in some way. He was enlightened. He tasted the heavenly gift. He trampled underfoot the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified.

    Tim S.

    Thanks for the encouragement from everyone. Much appreciated.


    I do not know about what conclusions individuals, such as Wilson, have finally embraced, but the FV movment is not just about Doug Wilson... it is not monolithic but a wide movement among postmillennial reconstructionists with sleight variations in belief. But to be certain, this is not coming out of nowhere.

    Many in the movement that I have read and personally spoken with have openly acknowledged that persons can be regenerate and then later, become unregenerate - and they actually use that very language unabashedly. I am not here to blast certain individuals -its not my place. I am more concerned specifically exposing a belief that I think is unbiblical and that many within this movement hold. If Wilson rejects that aspect of FV, great ... thank the Lord.


    Is sanctification monergistic or synergistic? Berkhof says that it is synergistic; involving human cooperation. I take him to mean that sanctification involves both ultimate (divine) and proximate (human) causation; human causation is not equally ultimate, but subordinate to divine causation. The WCF states that divine providence establishes rather than abolishes secondary causes. It seems that labeling sanctification monergistic fails to sufficiently recognize the role assigned to human agency in sanctification. As Ryle says in Justification and Sanctification:

    (a) Justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.
    (b) The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own, but the everlasting perfect righteousness of our great Mediator Christ, imputed to us, and made our own by faith. The righteousness we have by sanctification is our own righteousness, imparted, inherent, and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, but mingled with much infirmity and imperfection.
    (c) In justification our own works have no place at all, and simple faith in Christ is the one thing needful.
    (d) In sanctification our own works are of vast importance and God bids us fight, and watch, and pray, and strive, and take pains, and labour Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven.
    (e) Justification admits of no growth or increase: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work, and admits of continual growth and enlargement so long as a man lives.
    (f) Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God's sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures, and the moral renewal of our hearts.
    (g) Justification gives us our title to heaven, and boldness to enter in. Sanctification gives us our meetness for heaven, and prepares us to enjoy it when we dwell there.
    (h) Justification is the act of God about us, and is not easily discerned by others. Sanctification is the work of God within us, and cannot be hid in its outward manifestation from the eyes of men.

    With respect to sanctification, what is the difference between personal righteousness and self-righteousness? They sound similar. Ryle argues that personal (self) righteousness in necessary and can’t be hid from the eyes of men (which presumably includes ones own).

    With respect to our own good works, is it your contention that we cannot know of them because of sin? If so, how can we know if or faith is dead or not? Where does our assurance come from if we don’t examine ourselves? Your thoughts would be appreciated?

    Tim S.

    P.S. With respect to Wilson, you say that you don’t know what final conclusion he has embraced. However, the point of making his examination public was so that people like you could know what his final conclusions are. If you read it you’ll see that under oath he clearly denies that someone who is justified can become unjustified, or that a regenerate person can lose his salvation. He affirms that salvation is by faith alone, not faith plus works. He also affirms a distinction between the visible and invisible church.


    Strictly speaking, if monergism is understood correctly, it refers only to regeneration (the new birth) as I have always contended. There is no human response needed in order to become regenerate, rather, God regenerates us while we are completely passive (or hostile). But the result of our regeneration stirs human response in faith and obedience. This was not possible for the unregenerate person for he cannot understand spiritual things since he is not united to Christ by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14) Our action is required for other aspects of our Christian life, led by grace of course.

    Being regenerate we exercise faith (our faith) and obedience (which is our obedience). No one exercises faith or obedience for us (in contrast to regeneration where God takes the entire action) although faith and repentance are gifts to us and thus God deserves the glory. The Holy Spirit now indwells the believer, so grace always initiates our good work but does not actually do it while we sit there completely passive like a marionette. Thus, I would agree with your analysis. But you already know this better than I do brother Tim, so why ask me?

    As for your comments on Doug Wilson, my original comments were not about him. You are the one who brought him up. And since you did I provided some quotes which are beyond a little ambiguous, as are some of his writings which are still available. But again, my comments originally were centered on FV itself and some of its excesses (which clearly exist), not particluar individuals in the movement. My interest is in contending for the truth against bad theology where it exists. I am not here to put any individual on trial.

    In fact, PCA General Assembly is taking the theology of the movement seriously and studying it and will determine whether or not they deem it harmful by the next GA. The 34th PCA General Assembly approved erecting an ad interim committee "to study the soteriology of the Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies, which are causing confusion among our churches. Further, to determine whether these viewpoints and formulations are in conformity with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, whether they are hostile to or strike at the vitals of religion, and to present a declaration or statement regarding the issues raised by these viewpoints in light of our Confessional Standards."


    A few more thoughts. As a reformed Christian I have thought of the law as having three uses: the evangelical, the spiritual, and the political. The evangelical shows us our sin and drives us to Christ; this relates to justification. With the spiritual use, our regenerate hearts use the law as a lamp or guide showing us how to live and how to love both God and man. The Holy Spirit instills a love of righteousness and holiness and a hatred of wickedness. The political use of the law involves the containment of evil; i.e. murder, fraud, etc. Negative sanctions are imposed for transgression of the law. Calvin in his commentary of 1Timothy says that the political use of the law (fear of negative sanctions) is for the regenerate as well as the reprobate, because even as regenerate we are still sluggish to obey. In the Institutes he says that we are all she-asses that still need the whip of the law while still in this life – for a man reaps what he sows. For sure, transgression of the law results in the judgment of chastisement for believers as opposed to the judgment of vengeance for non-believers, but judgment it results in nonetheless. With respect to sanctification, our new hearts are not perfect hearts; in this life obedience is a struggle and the threat of chastisement can be a help when our hearts are none too eager to obey God’s Holy precepts. With respect to our motivation there is an already not yet dimension to pure desire; hence the Lord kindly threatens us with punishment for our transgressions; thus it is helpful for us to mediate upon the law so as to know what are duties are as well as be terrified by the chastisement that awaits us if we choose to indulge our flesh. Your thoughts?

    Tim S.


    Couldn't have said it better. I should pray the law is preached in such a way to Christians around the world every Sunday and that we would immerse ourselves each day in it. As Luther quips, "the law is for the proud and the gospel for the brokenhearted." Often being proud myself I need to hear the law to bring me back to reality, to continually remind myself of my lowly state when compared with God's majesty, that I might know His will for me. And I agree with Calvin's uses as you described them above. God makes use of the preaching of the law as a means of grace to the believers, hopefully driving them to Christ in dependence on Him for the strength to live by them and for mercy when we fail to.

    Further, Paul satates that the purpose of the divine legislation is not to show our ability but our inability (Rom 3:19, 20) And as believers the Law still gives us knowlege of our sin (or potential sin) for us to avoid.

    Thanks for asking. Hope you and your family are well.

    Solus Christus


    I was responding to the post by Richard found below. I was suren't if you concurred.

    Reformed theologians know the truth of JBGTF (justification by grace through faith) but we need to be as clear that sanctification is no different, ie SBGTF. Indeed true obedience is also OBGTF since, as you imply, we are to “obey because of a desire springing from [our] new nature in Christ”.

    Once we appreciate that God causes all three, we can see that all three are monergistic (done by one person, God). In the case of the obedience that is required of man, we fail however to distinguish properly between God’s causality (of our obedience) and man’s agency (that man is the tool God uses in the sense that an axe is the tool a man uses to chop down a tree). Instead we start to see God and man as synergistic, cooperating partners, not necessarily 50:50 partners, maybe even only 99:1 partners.

    It appeared to me that Richard was saying the sanctifcation was monergistic. Perhaps I mis-understood him. In any case you clearly affirm that sanctifcation is synergistic properly understood.

    To the extent that you agree with my analysis does that means that you agree that we can have reliable knowledge of the power of the Spirit working in us for our sanctification and that such knowledge can be a grounds for our assurance that we are elect?

    I would appreciate you thoughts.


    Tim S.


    I wish I had time to respond to every comment of each visitor but I am very busy. Many emails go neglected as well.

    Richard does appear to be saying that sanctification is monergistic. I don't agree with using this terminology, but I think many people (wrongly) interchange the word "grace" for "monergism". I am not that concerned about it so I did not exert my efforts in correction.

    More on law....But when we hear God law as believers, since we have been quickend by the Spirit, we can respond positively to it in faith. The love of God and His law is the believers' deepest animating motive and principle. Our purpose for doing good works spring from a heart that loves God and His law, a renewed heart of God's giving.

    As for our assurance, we can have reliable knowledge of the power of the Spirit working in us because we believe the gospel. An unregenerate man fails to see the truth, beauty or excellency in Christ. Sanctification surely likewise demonstrates the reality that the Spirit has indeed done a work of grace in us and that our faith is real.

    Explaining myself!...

    1.Is sanctification ‘monergistic’?

    I knew my description of sanctification as monergistic would be controversial. Of course I am happy with the WCF view, and in that context of ultimate and proximate cause, maybe I could just about live with ‘synergistic’ except that it is so quickly misunderstood and misapplied (as soon as we then start saying ‘cooperation’ because cooperation implies the possibility of resistance or thwarting, and clearly God’s sovereign plan will not be thwarted). Who first put the ‘syn’ in synergism?! ‘Syn’ (with) implies too much equality. It would be better to use ‘energism’ for God’s part, and ‘katergism’ for ours (borrowing from the Greek in Phil 2.12/13)

    But there remains a salutary value in continuing to describe sanctification as monergistic, because in terms of first cause, continuing motion, completion, glory and praise, God’s over-riding role and ability to accomplish his plan is as total in sanctification as it is in justification. Do we not agree? He puts spiritual new life into dead men (at regeneration) AND continues to put, or sustain, spiritual life in those men every moment thereafter to eternity (just as he sustains physical life from one moment to the next till death). This surely flows from Calvin's high doctrine of Providence. The word ‘monergism’ stands therefore against the ‘syn’ in synergism. ‘In him, we live and move and have our being’.

    2. So do we want to reserve ‘monergistic’ for regeneration?

    I suggest an unconscious reluctance to call sanctification ‘monergistic’ comes from our fear of impending licence or impending passivity. The gospel will always take people to the edge of licence, and an understanding of God’s sovereign providence will always take them to the edge of passivity. Paul and Calvin knew this and sought to address these dangers. But (and this is the point in my first post) it is surely better to preach the full-blooded gospel (including once saved always saved) and full-blooded sovereignty and then tackle licence and passivity, than to dilute our gospel message with Arminianism, or our sovereignty message with synergism, and then face a different danger, which I think is legalism. We think legalism is less dangerous than licence because it is less visible, but that actually makes it more dangerous!

    Has this helped or hindered?


    you said >>>>So do we want to reserve ‘monergistic’ for regeneration? I suggest an unconscious reluctance to call sanctification ‘monergistic’ comes from our fear of impending licence or impending passivity.

    Because I still believe it would be inaccurate, I do not feel totally comfortable using either of the terms "monergism" or "synergism" to describe any work of God aside from the quickening of regeneration. Perhaps another term than synergism is preferable in sanctification (I totally agree) but I still disagree with the usage of the term "monergism" in sanctification. It is qualitatively different in nature in each instance. here's why:

    First, this conclusion is really unrelated to any fear or "relucance" on my part, but is drawn exegetically and through common sense logic. If a person is blind, he cannot see. He must be healed or given new eyes from the outside to see. But once he has eyes, he uses them. He gives no glory to Himself for something he had nothing to do with to begin with. Even if God sustains his visual ability it is still he that uses his eyes ... And it is not someone else using his eyes for him.

    When a baby is being born it is completely passive in the process, but once she is born, she takes a breath with her own lungs. These lungs were given to her and even sustained by God, yet she, and not God, is doing the breathing. But she did not give herself birth.

    By using "monergism" you would be suggesting that it is God, and not we, who actually has faith. That the faith is not, in fact, in any sense ours, but God's faith and God exercising it while we do nothing and do not exercise faith. We affirm that God causes faith and even its preservation but we still exercise it. I understand meticulous providence but I would argue "monergism" is inappropriate to describe what goes on in sanctification.

    The Holy Spirit indwells and has granted us a new nature so all glory goes to the Lord alone but, having been renewed, we exercise faith (not God).

    Legalism is that which takes place when we either attempt to attain or maintain our justification before God, neither of which is what takes place when we obey God's commands as a renewed creature. Salvation has already occured. There is nothing more we can do to add to Christ and his finsihed, sufficient work on the cross. Our action is not redemptive or meritorious. BUT WE ACT because God has renewed our heart. He gets the glory.

    Also, monergism and synergism are both technical theologial terms referring specially to regeneration, not any other activity. Here are the dictionary definitions (Century Dictionary)

    "...the doctrine that there are two efficient agents in regeneration, namely the human will and the divine Spirit, which, in the strict sense of the term, cooperate. This theory accordingly holds that the soul has not lost in the fall all inclination toward holiness, nor all power to seek for it under the influence of ordinary motives."

    "In theol., The doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration - that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated, and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration."


    I once wrote an article in which I proposed that monergism was a term which could legitimately be applied to sanctification; but in ensuing dialogue, I realized that it could properly be said only of regeneration. I know where you're coming from, because I too was responding to a view of sanctification which implied that both man and God had effectual roles to contribute to the sanctification process -- i.e., that God unilaterally "empowered" every believer, and that the contributing role of the believer's regenerated will was the sole determining factor in the extent to which each believer would be practically sanctified. This viewpoint robs glory from God, and I was earnest to argue against it (as I am now).

    However, it is in any account imprecise to call sanctification monergistic in the same sense that regeneration is monergistic; because the one is the immediate (i.e. without any secondary means) activity of God, by which he unilaterally imparts life; and the other is a mediate activity of God, by which he infuses holiness through the secondary activity of human agency. Any direct correlation of the two, therefore, is as likely to distort the true understanding of regeneration as it is to aid in the true understanding of God's sole causal activity for sanctification. In other words, even if calling sanctification synergistic may lead some to believe that humans are in any way meritorious in their pursuit of holiness; still, it is equally true that calling it monergistic may lead some to believe that God regenerates through secondary human instrumentality, and hence that faith is the means by which the new birth comes about (instead of faith being the necessary result of the new birth). This by changing one's conception of what is meant by the term monergism.

    It would be most helpful if a new term were developed to be applied to sanctification (I like the "energism"/"katergism" idea). But until that time, we stand to lose more than we gain by calling it monergistic.

    Just some rough thoughts, take them or leave them.

    Thank you very much, John; and now, just seen, Pitchford.

    I’m happy to use neither monergism nor synergism for sanctification (and to invite Berkhof to join us!)

    Apologies - I am certainly not wanting to suggest that ‘you’ (John H) have any particular fear or reluctance; just that we all can have, from Pelagius (or possibly Judas) onwards. Certainly Peter’s fear misled him (Gal 2.12).

    On ‘faith’, I agree that it is of course our ears, our brain, our mind and our heart, and therefore our (not God’s) faith, though I will also want to say that it is God who puts it there, and keeps it there, in case we are tempted to see my faith as my contributory work that might distinguish me as wiser than those without faith. We also ‘exercise our faith’ though again it is God that causes us to do so. In all this, I think there is simply a semantic misunderstanding, in the way one might say that the man cut the tree down, and another might say that the axe did so.

    But if it is (rightly) ‘our’ faith, then surely we must find Ryle’s suggestion in (b) [as helpfully set out for us by Tim above] that Christ’s righteousness is ‘made our own by faith’ an unhelpful choice of words, to the extent that they do imply action by us that could cause us to boast over those who fail to make Christ’s righteousness their own by their faith. As we know, there must be no hint that faith is that sort of work. Notwithstanding the helpful shorthand, we are not in fact justified by faith, but by grace (and by union with Christ) ‘through’ faith, in the sense that our faith is simply the outward visible sign of inward visible regeneration (just like works are the outward visible sign of an inward living faith, etc).

    I am sure we can agree on the nature of ‘justifying faith’, but there is an area (the area of man’s obedience) where there may be more than semantic differences. I agree with your definition of legalism, but the Galatians’ status as renewed creatures did not automatically stop them from reverting to behaviour (and attitudes) that brought down Paul’s harshest words. Again I know you are not suggesting this, but we do not become perfect on regeneration – Rom 7 makes that clear. It could therefore be useful to know which are the good works that rightly and naturally flow from our (partly) changed heart, and which are the counterfeit ‘good’ works that flow from the ‘fleshly’ part of our as-yet-unchanged heart.

    Since the heart is deceitful above all things, I think this may be harder than it looks. I suspect the Galatians (and Peter before them) were sincere, well-intentioned and completely unsuspecting in what they were doing, and possibly even thought they were advancing their own sanctification. I am therefore keen to identify what the modern, equivalent error(s) might be. Maybe we could explore more about ‘sanctification’ or ‘man’s cooperation’ by asking a new question – what is the relevance of Galatians for us now? (Many Reformed evangelicals have taught that the Galatian heresy is adding things (like a ban on dancing, or on tobacco etc) to God’s law, but I for one think Paul paints it as a much more profound and subtle danger than that)

    This exchange is benefiting me!


    Thanks, I am enjoying the dialogue. Appreciate your comments and ideas.

    Consider Adam: Adam was not responding to something God did to be created alive. He did not exist prior to God's creation and so the act of creation itself is monergistic but all subsequent acts are not. Sustaining, preserving grace, yes, but not monergistic grace.

    So when you agree in your post that it is "our faith" even though we can in no way contribute or be wiser than others who do not have such faith, because God grants it and sustains it to begin with, yet when you acknowledge that it is "ours" you then agree that it is qualitatively different than what takes place in regeneration, which is not ours in any sense. Thus regeneration, like creation itself, is monergistic.

    We do not regenerate ourselves or do anything to be regenerated .. it has to completely come from outside. For in regeneration there is nothing of ours there whatever, not faith, not obedience, not desire, not good sense, just dead man's bones which God puts flesh on and calls to life. We are acted upon entirely, a new creation thus the word "monergism". God opens our blind eyes, unstops our deaf ears and turns our heart of stone to a heart of flesh and that APART from any act we do whatsoever. IN regeneration we are not responding to anything, and in fact cannot ... but like God's initial creation we are simply acted upon, this time re-created. But when the Spirit does a work of grace in us, we have faith and we have the desire to obey. All glory to God for giving us that desire. He indeed gives us sustaining and preserving grace but not monergistic grace after we are raised to life.

    Further God causing us to have faith and obedience (which I agree with you He does) does not make it "monergistic". It may be subtle but it is important I believe that we need to make the distinction and acknowledge that it is not merely semantic.

    I heartily agree with all the things you say about boasting and that no glory goes to us whatsoever. It is all of Grace. This we can agree. All I am saying is that the meaning of the term monergism can only be speaking of regeneration because it is the only time,(the inital giving of life) where we only are acted upon and not called to act. The New Birth is NEVER spoken of in the imperative. It is not a command. It says "you must be born again." (passive) But faith, rather, is given in the imperative. "this is the command, to believe in God's Only Son" But faith we are unable to muster up in ourselves so God must act upon us in regeneration (monergism) if faith is to be possible.

    In other words, we do not respond to anything to become regenerated.
    Whereas after regenerated we respond to the call to faith and obedience because of the new disposition and heart God has placed in us. Yes, he sustains us completely and we can do nothing apart from him but we do something. In regeneration we do nothing.

    Because if we were to say sanctification is monergistic then it would be claiming that the same idea of monergism in regeneration is exactly the same in sanctification are ... but they are not. In sanctification we are called to do things where in regeneration we are simly given God's mercy apart from any act.

    Hope this makes sense.
    John H.

    Wow, great discussion guys, and very helpful. I've always considered synergism a spiritual "bad word" myself because I always thought it implied the notion of a natural ability on man's part to cooperate with God whether it was in the context of regeneration or sanctification. Richard, this seems to be your understanding of the term as well. John, your definition of synergism is simply that both God and man do something (no natural ability implied, just God's grace), and this makes perfect sense to me in the context of both regeneration and sanctification, and more importantly still ascribes to God all the glory. It might be helpful to make this distinction more clear when talking about synergism in the context of regeneration so others don't make the same assumption about its definition that I have. Maybe a definition of key terms somewhere handy from the start page. It would be helpful for everyone to be on the same page with respect to definitions of terms. Just a thought. Thanks again for the discussion.


    Grace and peace to you in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. Many thanks for your post.

    Actually when synergism is used in the context of regeneration is it indeed a negative term implying that natural unregenerate man has the moral capacity to cooperate with God's grace to become regenerate. i.e. faith being produced by the unregenerate human nature (an impossible supposition). God would NOT get all the glory, in this case for salvation would partly depend on man. A spiritual act apart from being spiritual (see 1 cor 2:14). If two unregenerate persons hear the gospel and both receive grace why does one believe and not the other? Did he have more spiritual insight by nature, was he more wise? See this still leaves room for boasting. No, it is grace which makes them to differ, that is, regenerating grace, invincible grace, irresistible grace. Thus all glory goes to God in our salvaiton since our faith is the result of regeneration, not the cause. No one can believe unless God grants it through the new birth. (1 John 5:1; John 6:63-65).

    The point of the above discussion with Richard for me was mostly to explain why using the term "monergism" apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration could lead to misunderstandings. If used in the context of sanctificaiton (that is, if used in the same way it is with regeneration) it would imply that even our faith is not our own for we would have no part, not even a response to God's invincible grace. But more importantly it would obscure the actual meaning of monergism as it relates to regeneration where man is ONLY acted upon: God opening blind eyes, raising dead persons to life. Since man is already saved, justified and sealed by the Spirit after monergistic regeneration then all subsequnt acts spring from a renewed heart that loved God, BUT WE ACT. These gain no additional favor from God for what Christ has accomplished is totally sufficient. And our post-regenerational acts are rooted in our union with Christ, the spring gusing up living water from our new hearts.

    The nature of man and his disposition prior to regeneration and after regeneration are not the same. One does not have the Holy Spirit and the other does. One is dead in sin and must be raised spiritual from the dead, the other has already been made alive. Monergism is that very act of making alive because God does it apart from any desire, act, motion, cooperation or knowledge of our own. It is the light which pierces our darkness for the first time illumining our mind to the truth and beauty of Christ.

    As for definitions ... our main website (which this blog is merely a side of) is called A BIG FAT DEFINTION is available on the home page. You can't miss it. If you do, there are links all over the site which say "What is monergism?"

    Have a look see

    Solus Christus


    I agree with everything John has said about regeneration (though not necessarily everything he has implied about sanctification – more later). I am happy to go with him on restricting the use of the terms monergism and synergism purely for the regeneration debate. I agree that the Reformed/Calvinist tradition consistently and rightly insists that regeneration is monergistic not synergistic - indeed to disagree is essentially to be a Pelagian or Arminian.

    Your question to me - I do therefore find synergism a negative word implying an ability on man's part to cooperate with God in the context of regeneration (see above). But I also find synergism a negative word when loosely used about sanctification; this is because I also find ‘cooperate’ a negative word too (see below).

    We are however desperately short of terms akin to monergism and synergism to distinguish increasingly divergent lines of thinking about sanctification within the Reformed tradition, where 20th century thinkers (eg Ryle) do, in my view, differ substantially from the 16th century European authors (Luther/Calvin).

    Sometimes people use the word ‘cooperate’ (instead of synergism) in connection with sanctification. But what is implied thereby? Cooperation (Latin) like Synergism (Greek) both mean ‘to work with’. First, both words thus imply an unacceptable degree of equality with God in a task - unless the relative contributions are carefully and specifically evaluated (thus Paul says ‘Apollos watered but God gave the growth’; he does not say ‘Apollos watered and God gave the growth’) or explained (God as the ultimate Cause and man as the proximate Cause; or God as the cause and man as the agent, etc). But the problem is that however much we reiterate God’s sovereignty, the use of ‘syn’ or ‘co’ will always unconsciously inject the sense of equality, because the other secular uses of ‘syn’ and ‘co’ carry that sense.

    Secondly, and even more dangerously, the concept of ‘cooperation’ (man ‘working with’ God) implies man has the ability to resist God or thwart God in the task. There are of course those who do think that man can do exactly this and can therefore lose his salvation. I personally think this puts them outside the Reformed camp and makes them pseudo-Arminians. But I respect that this is a point of view that sensible men can hold, drawing on much of Jesus’ own teaching (and on Hebrews).

    Then there are those who might have been drawn to the word ‘cooperate’ because they have wanted to place considerable responsibility on man to ‘make sure his election’, while still insisting that man cannot lose his election. I guess Ryle is in this position, and it is where I have been (past tense!) This is like having a foot in two camps and has been, for me, an unstable and uncomfortable position. I am not persuaded by those who say that this instability reflects the tension present within scripture, and represents a mystery resolved only in heaven. They often quote Phil 2.12/13 in support, but I now find their emphasis is very different from Calvin’s.

    If it might help, I will endeavour to set out where I think I am moving to from this uncomfortable position, and why!


    Would you, on the basis of the passage you quoted above and his other writings, be happy with my positioning of Ryle in my post for Lee (above)?



    I agree and affirm all of the concepts you affirm regarding sanctification. Man is not working with or cooperating with God in order to achieve more grace in being sanctified. God alone does the sanctifying. Yet there is action on man's part (that does not contribute to this grace), yet action nonetheless (he believes, he obeys). This flows out of God regenerating, sustaining and preserving, invincible grace, apart from which man could do nothing.

    My point simply is that "monergism", imho, is not the proper word to describe the sanctification aspect because it then robs its key meaning in regeneration, which is that not only God alone raises from the dead but man does not cooperate, act or do anything in order to become regenerate. Man has no roll except to be passively acted upon. But after regeneration, having been made alive monergistically, having union with Christ by grace through faith unto justification. God's invincible grace makes this certain and God controls the outcome, yet man acts. Man does nothing to be regenerated. God does it without our thought or act. But man does something to give witness to his justification by grace (believe)

    So we must affirm there is a difference. Monergism is descriptive of an act of God which man is completely passive in the midst of. Since we agree on the concepts of sanctification I suppose our only difference is what to call it.

    A helpful quotation from John Murray on sanctification (commenting on Philippians 2:12-13):

    "...Neither is the relation strictly one of co-operation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction or co-ordination of both produced the required result. God works in us and we also work. But the relation is that because God works we work. All working out of salvation on our part is the effect of God's working in us..."

    And elsewhere:

    "It is necessary to be reminded that in the last analysis we do not sanctify ourselves. It is God who sanctifies (I Thes. 5:23). Specifically it is the Holy Spirit who is the agent of sanctification."


    Let me bring up another issue if I might; what is the Gospel? The following comes from monergism’s section on Gospel.
    God and man must both do something before a man can be saved. Hyper-Calvinism denies the necessity of human action, and Arminianism denies the true nature of the Divine action. The Bible clearly sets forth both the divine and human essential in God's plan of salvation. This is not to say, as Arminianism does, "God's part is to freely provide salvation for all men, and man's part is to become willing to accept it." This is not what we said above, nor is it what the Bible teaches. In order to understand what God's Word really says, and to try to answer some straw dummy objections, we will establish the subject one point at a time.
    ONE: A man must repent and believe the gospel in order to be saved. No one was ever forgiven and made a child of God who did not willingly turn from sin to Christ. Nowhere does the Bible even hint that men can be saved without repentance and faith, but to the contrary, the Word always states these things are essential before a person can be saved. The one and only Bible answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" is, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved."
    TWO: Every one who repents and believes the gospel will be saved. Every soul, without any exception, who answers the gospel command to come to Christ will be received and forgiven by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Philip Bliss put the truth to music when he said, "Who-so-ever will, forever must endure..." If we can be absolutely certain about anything, we can be sure that Christ will never void His promise to receive "all who come to Him." As old John Bunyan said, "Come and welcome" is the Savior's eternal word to all sinners.
    THREE: Repentance and faith are the free acts of men. Men, with their own mind, heart, and will must renounce sin and receive Christ. God never repented and believed for anyone - and He never will. Turning from sin and reaching out in faith to Christ are the acts of man, and every man who so responds to the gospel call does so because he honestly desires to do so. He wants to be forgiven and he can only be forgiven by repenting and believing. No one, including God, can turn from sin for us, we must do it. No one can trust Christ in our place, but we must personally, knowingly, and willingly trust Him in order to be saved.
    To be sure, he goes on to include that the unregenerate can’t and won’t repent and believe. Fair enough.

    Now, if we preach the gospel to ourselves each day as a means to our sanctification then we must, in addition to believing, be repenting. But repenting from what? Presumably repenting from sin. And what is sin? Any transgression of and want conformity to the law of God; i.e. we are to repent from wickedness (law-breaking) and repent to righteousness (law-keeping). Now with respect to sanctification, we have already established that the type of righteousness that pertains is personal righteousness, not imputed righteousness; i.e. you are the one who needs to repent, Jesus doesn’t repent for you. You are the one who needs to determine whether you are fulfilling the duties and respecting the boundaries that the law of God imposes on you. And how do you do this? By examining yourself as well as listening to the results of the examination of others (friends, spouse, elders). Of what does such an examination consist? Of your performance. Are YOU defrauding your neighbor? Are YOU maligning your neighbor’s good name? Are YOU rendering proper respect to lawfully constituted authority? Are YOU engaging in a form of false worship? So on and so forth. The Westminster Larger Catechism’s explication of the Ten Commandments is excellent in this respect. And what is this activity? A form of biblical casuistry. Some erroneously label such an activity legalism. Some erroneously condemn the psychology that attends to the vigorous pursuit of personal righteousness as denial of justification. However, this is to confuse matters. As Christian’s we are to love personal righteousness and hate personal wickedness; and not just in principle but as it applies to our performance. And how are we going to know if we are doing this unless we examine ourselves? Are we defrauding our neighbor as the law of God defines fraud? A month later are we still doing it? A year later? Ten years? Do we refuse to repent? Is this refusal an isolated affair or part of a larger pattern? If so, we should question the authenticity of our “faith”. We should fear for our salvation for our faith is that of the demons.

    Your thoughts?

    Tim S.


    There is nothing legalistic whatsoever about obedience to God's Law. I would not "label such an activity (as you described) legalism." Far from it. Obedience to God's law is commanded and brings glory to God but legalism exists only when we obey for the wrong reasons, i.e in order to be justified or to maintain our justificaiton or union with Christ. Rather, we should be obeying BECAUSE we are already in union with Him and we love his law, this demonstates the reality of a work of grace having been done in us.

    To the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son ...the brother says "this son of yours squandered his inheritance on prositutes and you slaughtered him a calf and I have been working for you all my life and have not gotten..." The older brother problem is he did not see himself as a son first, but as a servant in order to get these things. He doesn't have to earn them, he is a son. He, rather, should want to do them because they are family, not in order to become family.

    Even good deeds done by the power of the Holy Spirit if someone believes they obtain or help obtain, retain or help retain, his salvation, is legalism. They may acknowledge that Christ's work of obedience is necessary for salvation, but deny that Christ's work is sufficient for salvation. They may assert that to Christ's work must be added the works of the sinner, done either under his own steam, or by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what makes them legalists: their belief in the incompleteness or insufficiency of the work of Christ outside of them. People may differ on what constitutes good works; they may differ on whether only God's law or church law as well is to be obeyed; but they agree that the work of Christ alone is insufficient for their final salvation.

    For those who persist in disobedience to God's revealed law,

    1 John 2:19-20: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things." In this passage John discusses certain persons who at one time had professed apostolic doctrine and were members of the church. Note the Spirit-inspired analysis of the apostle John regarding this all too common situation. John says, "they were not of us." That is, they were never genuine members of the church. While it is true that they were baptized and professed the true religion, they were never united to Christ or saved. They were chaff on the same floor as wheat (Mt. 3:12), or tares among the wheat (Mt. 13:24-25).

    Matthew 7:21-23: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" After warning His disciples of the danger of false prophets, Our Lord warns them of the consequences of a false profession of religion. He describes people who profess Christ; who acknowledge His Lordship; who are even engaged in some type of Christian service; yet who never had a saving relationship to Jesus. These people were obviously members of the visible church. But, they were never truly united to the Lord or saved; they were never members of the invisible church.Note, Jesus says to all false professors of religion on the day of judgment, "I never knew you." Since God is omniscient, the word "knew" in this context does not refer to a mere intellectual knowledge (e.g., in John's gospel see: 1:47, 49; 2:24, 25; 21:17). Rather the term "knew" in this passage is used in the Hebraic sense of love, acknowledgment, friendship, intimate fellowship. Our Lord says that everyone in the visible church who is not really saved (i.e., they do not have true saving faith and the works that demonstrate the reality of that faith.) never, ever (i.e., for even a single moment) had a relationship or vital union with Him.

    Romans 9:6: "But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel." The apostle explains that it is to true Israel (i.e., the elect or the invisible church) that the promises are made. It is to these people only that God's eternal electing love is directed. There is national election—the nation of Israel or the visible church—and within Israel, the visible church, there is true Israel—the invisible church. The Jews who did not reject the Messiah are "a remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom. 11:5).

    Brother Tim, again, you already know this better than most people here. For what purpose do you ask me? I am very interested to know what use you will make of this information.


    You ask why do I ask? The answer is something bothered me about your essay and I want to understand clearly what you are not saying so that I can understand better what you are saying; simple enough. Let me make a few comments so that you get an idea where I’m coming from. I hope this isn’t too tedious.

    There were some Rabbis in the early first century who were teaching that if all of them (the Pharisees) would just obey the whole law for a single day it would usher in the Messianic Age. Resultantly you had certain quarters of Judaism who were intent on keeping every aspect of the law.
    Doug Wilson in his book Mother Kirk has a chapter entitled: “Legalism: Hatred of God’s Law”. He points our that legalists (the Pharisees), like all unregenerate men, hate God’s law; however, they pretend to obey it but either truncating it (ignoring the weightier matters, externalizing, internalizing, etc) or changing it (Mark 7 – doing something God didn’t command them to do, make a Corban offering at the temple, in lieu of doing something he did tell them to do, honor their parents. The point being that no Pharisee was then or is now sincerely interested in obeying God’s law.
    We must also take heed lest we take our eyes off of Christ in an attempt to fulfill God's purpose in some performance-based way.
    Sanctification involves putting of our eyes on ourselves so as to examine our lives and it involves fulfilling God’s purpose (holiness) through performance (repentance). So you must be referring to justification at this point.
    Or to put it theologically, trying to base your justification on your sanctification, to which the book of Galatians says, "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3)
    Yes, in some sense this is the error of the Roman Catholics, of course, remembering that most Roman Catholics are not regenerate or they wouldn’t remain under the authority of their apostate church.
    This solemn warning from Paul (who, since the Damascus road, now understood grace) that humans are in constant danger of exchanging God's grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ for merit-based Christianity. This is not only a problem with many 1st century Jews but is a human problem, something we are all prone to, for we really want to feel as if we are somehow contributing to the price of our redemption. We would never say it this way, but such feelings are innate, subtle and deadly.
    Here you begin to lose me a bit. You claim of exchanging God's grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ for merit-based Christianity is a universal problem. But how could this be since the majority if mankind makes no claim to Christianity whatsoever let alone merit-based Christianity; so I think you must be referring to some kind of universal tendency among genuine believers. However, even this seems too broad; perhaps among certain immature believers this is a temptation, but for others their proclivity is the sin of presuming on God’s grace so as to justify their unrighteous acts. For mature believers the notion that our “righteous” acts can merit our salvation is so ridiculous, so impossible as not to even warrant consideration. It is like trying to consider a square triangle; hardly a universal temptation.
    Thus the need to preach the gospel to ourselves, as Christians, every day, reminding ourselves that we are united to Christ, are to glory in Him and have no confidence in the flesh. All merit/performance/works based righteousness in inimical to the gospel of salvation.
    Here again I’m a little confused. Yes we are commanded in Scripture to remember what God has done for us, we should remind ourselves that it is only the blood of Christ that can atone for our sin. However, we also know that the gospel also tells us to repent and that repentance involves moving from personal unrighteous to personal righteous, that this is something that we need to do (perform) because Jesus didn’t repent for us, and that do it does entail a type of merit (deserving of reward – not of salvation but of blessing in this life and the next). So I assume again that you are only speaking about justification and only speaking to immature Christians who don’t properly understand the nature of justification.
    But thanks be to God, the gospel liberates us from all such moralism, that is, all attempts to attain or maintain our justification before God through self-effort.
    Now I’ll selectively quote and comment.

    We must NEVER fall into the trap of believing that what God does for us depends first on what we do for God.

    Needs to be qualified which you did later. With respect to justification this is entirely true. With respect to the promises for obedience in this life and the next this is not true.

    If your purpose of reading the Bible, praying, giving etc. is not springing from a new heart out of love for what God has already accomplished for you once for all in Christ, but rather is slavishly given in the hope of getting God's favor or even maintaining our just standing before God then you need to recall the gospel to mind. Have you so quickly forgotten it?

    Here your directive seems to narrow. Certainly one fantastic motive for obeying God is gratitude for what he has done for us. But is it the only motive? It seems to me that there are others. If God promises to reward us (Heb 11:6) then seeking reward (blessing) is also one legitimate motive. Avoiding pain, be it chastisement or damnation seems like another motive sanctioned by Scripture. Likewise, since we can, as Christians incur God’s fatherly displeasure even though we are justified, it seems legitimate to say that first obedience, and then, if we sin, repentance “maintain” our good-standing before God (not our position as children – unless we persist in sinning in which case we are showing that our father is really the devil) and therefore desiring to please God the Father as well as desiring to avoid his righteous anger also are legitimate motives for obedience. I’m sure there are many more, in any case is seems clear that the motives for obedience as Christian are manifold.

    The gospel is our only way out of moralism. Jesus Christ has already done everything necessary for your just standing before God. So reject your own righteousness, and repent of trusting in your good works, in your virtue or politics for they fall woefully short of Christ. Trusting anything else in addition to Christ is nothing less that to erroneously believe that His work on the cross is insufficient.


    So cast out the inner Pharisee that daily whispers in your ear that God's love for you is conditional, depending what level you have reached in the Christian life.

    But his fatherly good-pleasure is conditional and that would be the Holy Spirit whispering in your other ear; don’t confuse the two.

    This moralism or merit-based Christianity is difficult to leave behind

    Yes, for some it is; for others obedience is the struggle.

    but YOU MUST DO SO because it denies the grace of God.

    With respect to justification this is true. With respect to sanctification it is personal obedience than affirms the grace of God.

    You are saved by grace and you must live and be sanctified by grace as well

    This confuses me a bit. The whole while time you are talking about justification. Now you begin talking about sanctification without identifying how they differ.

    One of the reasons I bring this up is because there are and always have been errors in the church regarding this important issue. While it is indeed true that justification is now and in the future. Our initial justification is received by faith alone and we also await the future consummation of our redemption. There is indeed an already/not yet aspect to our justification. But according to some new perspectives, future justification, acquittal at judgment day, always takes place on the basis of the totality of the life lived.

    I agree that those who teach that part of God’s final judgment involves our God good works are in error.

    This raises the very important question as to whether they believe the sinner must maintain his own just standing before God through his own covenantal faithfulness. In other words, does justification partly depend on the sinner. If so I contend they are in serious danger of affirming that what Christ accomplished is not itself sufficient. It is a rejection of salvation by grace alone from beginning to end.

    Here a greater clarification of what is meant by sufficient would be helpful. Is Christ blood sufficient to atone for my sin? Yes and No. Yes, in itself it is completely sufficient; nothing needs to be added. However, in another sense it isn’t. And what sense is this? If the Holy Spirit doesn’t apply Christ work to me then my sin won’t be atoned for. So in this sense the Holy Spirit is also necessary. If that is true (and it is) then in a sense Christ’s blood is necessary, but not sufficient to save me. Developing this a bit further, if the Holy Spirit is necessary to apply the work of Christ to me and that application by the Holy Spirit involves regeneration and regeneration necessarily involves sanctification and sanctification necessarily involves repentance and repentance necessarily involves good works then there is a sense in which salvation involves good works. This is what Federal Visionite Doug Wilson is saying, this is what I affirm, this seems to be what you affirm, it is what the WCF affirms and what ultimately and most importantly the Bible affirms.

    I hope I have not wasted your time.

    Best Regards,

    Tim S.

    John H

    I think Tim S, you and I all agree about monergistic regeneration, but we disagree on sanctification.


    Notwithstanding Ryle et al, I personally think we ought to reserve the word ‘sanctification’ for the single act by God that Murray describes in ‘Definitive Sanctification’ (which preserves the original ‘set apart’ meaning). But if we are to go on using the word ‘sanctification’ to mean also ‘growing in conformity with Christ through obedience’ (ie progressive sanctification), then I agree with your opening post and with Nathan Pitchford’s post (Aug 30), but I disagree with aspects of your August 30 1230 post (more later) and with Tim’s latest.

    We all agree that we are commanded to respond and obey etc, but I think we disagree on how to do so. For lack of better terms, I see Tim as more Arminian than you, and myself as more ‘hyper-Calvinist’ if you like (I do not encourage ‘passivity’ as hyper-Calvinists can be thought to, but the ‘effort’ I encourage relates to faith and not directly to good works (more later)

    The ‘how to obey’ (or ‘with what shall I obey?’) issue could perhaps be reformulated

    1. theologically, as ‘do we obtain, by the work of the Holy Spirit, any infused or personal righteousness in our lifetime?’ (Ryle suggests we do, and Tim suggests that the WCF says so too. I agree that WCF chaps 9 and 13 suggest we do, but that chaps 11 and 16 suggest not. If I may dare say it, were we to conclude that the WCF says yes, then I would suggest that Calvin himself actually said no!).

    2. more experientially, as ‘what is the significance of any persistent sinning after my conversion?’ Is it Rom 7 or Heb 12?

    Looking forward to your response to Tim, and your views on questions 1 and 2 above!

    I think we are getting to something very important here !!


    I agree that something important is being discussed here. I would also say that all party's agree that faith is operative in sanctification; the question is what form does that faith take. I would say that the faith involved in sanctification is a living and active faith; it expresses itself in love which fulfilling the law. Jesus said that those who love him will keep his commandments. A good husband loves wife by being faithful to here amongst other things. Faithfulness in his case involves fulfilling certain duties and respecting certain boundaries imposed by the law of God. Faithfullness thus involves studying and endeavoring to keep the law of God. Faithfulness is covenant keeping.

    With respect to infused righteousness, my understanding historically of the relationship of infused to imputed rightouesness is as follows:

    1) Roman Catholicism teaches that infused righteousness (sanctification) is the basis of justification. They reject the notion of imputed righteousness.

    2)Classic Protestantism taught that imputed right is the basis of justificaton and that infused righteousness is the basis of sanctification. There is no contradiction between infused and imputed properly understood.

    3)Modernism (in the form of Neo-Orthodoxy - i.e Barth)claimed that the Reformers were correct with respect to justification but incorrect with respect to sanctification. Like Rome, they saw imputed and infused righteousness as incompatible. However, they simply inverted Rome's scheme by making justification the basis sanctification; the basis of your sanctification is your justification. Righteousness is imputed in sanctification as well as justification. You are accounted actually holy as Christ was holy. When God looks at you he see Christ and is well pleased; i.e. God can never be displeased with you, even with respect to fatherly displeasure.

    Now much more could be said about Neo-Orthodoxy and the inroads it has made in to contempory Reformed thought but for now let me quote for the Westminster Larger Catechism. I find myself in full agreement with what it says. I would like to know what if any of it you disagree with:

    Question 72: What is justifying faith?

    Answer: Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

    Question 73: How does faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?

    Answer: Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness.

    Question 74: What is adoption?

    Answer: Adoption is an act of the free grace of God, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow heirs with Christ in glory.

    Question 75: What is sanctification?

    Answer: Sanctification is a work of God's grace, whereby they whom God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.

    Question 76: What is repentance unto life?

    Answer: Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God's mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.

    Question 77: Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?

    Answer: Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputes the righteousness of Christ;in sanctification his Spirit infuses grace, and enables to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued:the one does equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

    Question 78: Whence arises the imperfection of sanctification in believers?

    Answer: The imperfection of sanctification in believers arises from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, and the perpetual lustings of the flesh against the spirit; whereby they are often foiled with temptations, and fall into many sins, are hindered in all their spiritual services, and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.

    Question 79: May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the state of grace ?

    Answer: True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God, and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance, their inseparable union with Christ, his continual intercession for them, and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

    Question 80: Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation?

    Answer: Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavor to walk in all good conscience before him, may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God's promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made, and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation.

    Question 81: Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved?

    Answer: Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith, true believers may wait long before they obtain it; and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions; yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair.

    Tim S.


    Thank you so much for your reply (which I have only just seen. I thought sadly that the blog had been withdrawn since I could not find it initially)

    I may need to give you a fuller reply (so that you might help me more) but for now

    a. (your opening para) I think some of my concern arises from ‘applied theology’ rather than from a difference of opinion on doctrine. I am trying to distinguish, for myself and others, between ‘faith which ..expresses itself in love which is fulfilling the law’ (which must be right doctrine) and yet the actual practice of a regenerate person obeying the law for the wrong reasons (without necessarily being able to identify these reasons and therefore see them as arguably wrong). Two wrong reasons seem to me to be (i) the regenerate person who, maybe through physical exhaustion (like Elijah or Jonah), then lacks confidence and assurance and fears that any lack of obedience will prove that he was not regenerate after all (which I think might be described as a weak conscience); or similar but lesser, (ii) the regenerate person obeying because he fears the temporary removal of God’s countenance on him because of fatherly displeasure. The latter is like the obedience of a sullen child rather than the obedience of a good husband (in your analogy). In the case of the good husband, he may not always want to be dutiful, but deep down his bedrock motive is a commitment to love. The sullen child’s bedrock motive is fear. Now there is a right and a wrong fear of God in the regenerate person. As in an earlier blog post, Calvin distinguishes between the fear that drives us to Christ, and the fear or ‘hesitation’ that destroys our assurance. Ideally regenerate people will only ever see their assurance increase but that does not in practice happen. Sometimes God allows their assurance to decrease to draw them from the complacency of sin, but sometimes assurance decreases simply because of bad teaching ‘that even the elect might be deceived’.

    b. Your distinction has helped me see that I might be closer than I had realised to Neo-Orthodoxy (than to Classic Protestantism) but I had read Calvin as himself (Luther too) against infused righteousness not just as the basis of justification (Catholic view) but as the basis of sanctification also (ICR Bk 3 chap 11 where he rebuts the infused righteousness suggested by the Lutheran, Osiander). (Notwithstanding the above, I would not however hold to any of the Arminianism that Barth sometimes suggests)

    c. My response to WLC is formed by a and b above. No problems with Q & A 72-74 on justification since the Arminian flavour at the end of A 73 (“he receives and applies Christ”) is squashed by the reference there to faith “only as it is an instrument”

    d. In the light of a and b above, I am however predictably less happy with the Q & As on sanctification. This centres on two ideas (i) ‘purposing and endeavouring constantly’ (A 76) and (ii) ‘more and more’ die unto sin (A 75). I am not for a minute advocating licence – certainly adopted sons ‘must’ or ‘will’ (there’s the rub) take on the likeliness of their older brother, but my concern is that the language of (i) and (ii) can drive believers into a fearful obedience rather than into the obedience that the Neo-Orthodox position seems to lead to. ‘Purposing and endeavouring constantly’ seems designed to induce a morbid sense of introspection and seems to suggest that we might sin through ignorance and weakness but makes sinning ‘through our own deliberate fault’ the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. (I can see now why some now change ‘constantly’ to ‘habitually’ but that actually appears to condone a certain degree of licence!) ‘More and more die unto sin’ and its cousin ‘growing up to perfection’ seems designed to induce an unjustified sense of complacency where we may still thank God for what he has done in us, but we do then start unconsciously to trust in that which he has done in us, ie our holiness.

    e. I realise my position in d above leaves two unanswered questions (i) what is the nature of the obedience to which we are clearly called (described in WLC as ‘purposing and endeavouring’) and (ii) if it is not holiness, then what is it that we can clearly see in believers who are more mature in the faith than we? My short answers would be (i) that obedience is essentially listening more than doing in the sense that, as we learn more about God, we are transformed by the renewing of our mind, and the correct ‘doing’ will follow naturally and perhaps unconsciously, rather than what often seems like our clumsy (and dare I say hypocritical) attempts to model ourselves on biblical precepts (I know my view always appears perilously close to passivity and therefore more ‘risky’); and (ii) what we see in mature believers is not any substantial or permanent growth in ‘holiness’ (in the sense of conformity to Christ) but a growth in faith; it is as if through faith, they are led to more faith, or through meeting with their saviour, they become increasingly willing and comfortable (and able?) to meet with him. It is a growth of faith, not of goodness. We are perceiving, as it were, the glory on Moses’ face, but the key thing is to realise that that glory faded until he met with the Lord again, and also it did not stop Moses sinning (striking the rock the second time). Since ‘my’ view does not suggest any growth in goodness/holiness, it must follow that the Neo-Orthodox view is correct (that goodness/sanctification is also imputed to us). Indeed I would say that the growth in goodness/moral perfection that is required of us to stand in the presence of God is what is given to us, in toto, at glorification.

    Have I departed irretrievably from both the Classic and Neo-Orthodox view?


    Here is a quote about FV which came from a message board.What is this guy talking about?
    "Before this debate I had never seen the active obedience of Christ separated from His righteousness as a whole, and spoken about as if it is the basis for a believer's justification. Antinomians used to speak so, but the orthodox didn't. More care needs to be taken on both sides."

    How can any other "part" of Christ's righteousness be the basis for our justification? Does he mean both His active and passive obedience?

    I am really pleased to have come accross this site. Since the begginning of time man has always wanted his hand in his salvation. Delighted to see you bring the reformed perspective concerning the covenant of grace. Praise God from whom all blessings Flow.

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