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Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung have been having a good dialogue online about the role and focus of effort in the Christian life as it relates to justification and sanctification.

One summary from Kevin: “Tullian's point is that sanctification requires the hard work of fighting to believe that we are justified by faith alone apart from anything good do or could possible contribute. I agree sanctification requires the fight of faith to believe this scandalous good news of the gospel of justification. I disagree that this is the only kind of effort required in sanctification.”

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22 thoughts on “Gospel, Grace, and Effort”

  1. Scott C says:

    I believe Kevin has hit the nail on the head and strikes the proper balance.

  2. Sam K says:

    Yes, I have been feeling that the past year or two Tullian has been venturing into Antinomianism. He’s grasped the Gospel but allowed the pendulum swing too far over. Glad to see DeYoung push back on this.

  3. patriciazell says:

    “For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6 When it comes right down to it, the insistence on having the precise meaning of certain terms may not matter at all. What is important is seeking God with everything we have (no matter what we call that process) because all of us–individually and collectively–need the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that only God has. As Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33). When we do that, our sanctification and justification will be manifested.

    1. Olive says:

      I’ll add a hearty ‘Amen’ to that, Patricia.

  4. Brad says:

    Couldn’t agree more with Sam K and Scott C. However, I don’t see Tullian venturing into Antinomianism. It seems to me that he is so excited about justification that perhaps his teaching (or at least his blog posts) is out of balance, neglecting other truths about the gospel and sanctification.

    1. I wonder if some of that has to do with how God has worked in his ministry and life personally. I was a little like that a few years ago when I rediscovered the doctrines of regeneration and justification, and their implications on my relationship with God. It was so totally freeing, and for a while I really twitched at preaching that felt overly weighted on holiness, sanctification and gutting it out for Jesus (and I’d heard a lot of it). I wonder whether, in another couple of years, you’ll see the pendulum swinging back for Tullian. Or, maybe this discussion itself will help shift things. It’s been really edifying and encouraging to read two brothers in the faith lovingly grapple out loud with such an important issue.

  5. Ted says:

    I appreciate someone told me years ago about the difference between justification and sanctification: “God despises earning, but honors effort.”

  6. Jason says:

    Super helpful discussion. I’ve been wrestling with this one, and that last sentence and Kevin’s discussion surrounding it was really helpful.

  7. Richard says:

    I think it shows a profound misunderstanding of Tullian’s position to accuse him of antinomianism. Martyn-Lloyd Jones is supposed to have said that you know you have preached the Gospel message rightly if you are wrongly accused of this. It appears the Apostle Paul understood this as well.

    1. John Thomson says:


      MLJ had no problems with emphasising effort in the Christian life. He would not have approved Tullian’s emphasis here.

  8. Brian says:

    Another concern I have is that “gospel-centered” folks (of whom I would want to be counted) may be over-emphasizing the sanctifying effect of remembering our past justification and forgiveness to the exclusion of looking forward to judgment, glory, heaven, etc. Repeatedly the Bible calls us to strive for holiness, not based solely on our current status, but on our future state. Put another way, we are given multiple motivations for our fight of faith, and they include both past and “future grace”.

  9. Sam K says:

    I apologize for not being more irenic and thoughtful in my stating that I have a “feeling” Tullian is “venturing” into Antinomianism. I should have been more careful to explain.

    To clarify, I should have said, “We need not emphasize the doctrine of grace at the expense of the doctrine of holiness. The two need not be mutually exclusive but rather work in tandem for the preacher of the Gospel”.

    Judging from tweets, blogs, and sermons; I am not sure if Pastor Tullian is in the center of that balance as of late.

  10. Conor says:

    I appreciate the conversation between these two great pastors, but aren’t most of the commenters here misrepresenting Tullian T? He consistently says sanctification requires effort and hard work, and that the Christian life is a battle to follow Christ. He never says we shouldn’t do what the Scriptures so clearly tells us to do with regards to mortifying the flesh or putting on Christ. Instead, the focus of his posts is on where we find the motivation, or the desire (or the wind for our sails, as his latest post puts it) to enter into this battle in the first place – and that’s the finished work of Christ for us, as received in justification. If you’re quick to call him ‘antinomian’ or to say he doesn’t preach the whole counsel of God, I urge you to examine your motivation for doing that.

    1. John Thomson says:


      Forgive this comment, it is not meant harshly. I don’t think it is good to refer to Kevin or Tullian as ‘great pastors’. They are both young and have yet to fully prove themselves. Indeed even if they were older it is not good for them to be referred to as ‘great’. Who is Kevin or who is Tullian…

      There is a tendency I note in the USA younger Reformed tradition to make too much of men. I don’t think it is healthy for any and rightly brings criticism for those less friendly to the Coalition fraternity.

      Again, I do not intend to offend. Yours in the faith…

  11. ND says:

    I think Kevin is giving some helpful push back and bringing more balance.

    I remember reading this from Scot McKnight not that long ago…interesting that others are picking up on these issues from Tullian:

    “But what I’m seeing today among some young Calvinists, e.g., Tullian Tchividjian, appears to me to be an exaggeration of grace theology at the expense of how the Bible frames ethical practices and injunctions.”

    1. ND says:

      I think Tom Schreiner would agree more with Kevin as well.

      Here’s some helpful quotes from hi NAC commentary on 1, 2 Peter:

      on 2 Peter 1:5

      – “The exhortation to holiness is grounded in God’s work of salvation as it has been accomplished in jesus Christ…grace precedes demand. The priority of grace, however, does not cancel out strenuous moral effort” (298).

      – “…moral excellence of believers can only be attributed to God’s grace. And yet, New Testament writers never polarize God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Those whom God has effectively called to virtue are also to practice virtue with energy and intensity” (299).

      On 1:10

      -“The reference to ‘calling’ and ‘election’ highlights God’s grace. He is the one who saves.
      The emphasis here, however, is not on what God has done but on the responsibility of human beings…Calvin understood this verse subjectively, saying that believers should satisfy themselves mentally about their calling and election…this interpretation is not entirely satisfying, for Peter was also speaking of objective reality. Believers confirm their calling and election by concretely practicing the virtues in vv. 5-7…Those who practice such virtues will also experience subjective assurance, but we should note that their objective obedience is the foundation for subjective assurance” (304-305).

  12. Steve Martin says:

    The trouble with advocating effort and a co-operative action in sanctification is that it put the focus (with all the best of intentions)on the believer and what he/she does, rather on Christ and what He does.

    “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” Many of us just do NOT believe that word of God. We just have to have a piece of that action for ourselves.

    No…as Gerhard Forde said, “Christian growth is forgetting about yourself.”

    Tough to do when the preacher is telling you to get busy.

    1. Richard says:

      Right on, Steve; it’s the difference between Law and Gospel.

      1. Justin Taylor says:

        I think the Canons of Dordt are more helpful here. It’s a both-and of “do” and “done,” with both centered on the gospel: “just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the proclamation of the gospel, so he preserves, continues, and completes his work by the hearing and reading of the gospel, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises” (5.14).

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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