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Audio of this session here.

Kevin’s next book will be The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (Crossway, August 2012). [Not sure how long this will last, but Amazon has it on pre-sale for 53% off.]

I could be wrong, but in general, I believe that for all the good that we see in the Young, Restless, Reformed movement (or the New Calvinism, or the Reformed Resurgence, or whatever you want to call it)—for all the good that I see (and there is much), I believe that there are critical elements of Christian discipleship that we are not yet known for.

We are, I believe, known for

  • our commitment to the Scriptures,
  • our commitment to expositional preaching,
  • our commitment to the doctrines of grace,
  • our commitment to biblical manhood and womanhood,
  • our commitment to the uniqueness of Christ,
  • our commitment to penal substitutionary atonement,
  • our commitment to justification by faith alone, and above all
  • our commitment to the centrality of the gospel.

All of this is to be celebrated and commended.

But there are two critical areas in which I think we need to grow: (1) a commitment to global missions and (2) a commitment to personal holiness. David Platt will speak on the former; I want to take this time to talk to you about the latter.

Hebrews 12:14 tells us to “strive for . . .  for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

The writer is talking about progressive sanctification not our positional holiness in Christ. That’s why he says “strive for holiness.” Without it, we won’t see the Lord.

As we celebrate what Christ has saved us from, we must also give thought to and make effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to.

Those most passionate about the gospel of God’s free grace should also be those most dedicated to the pursuit of godliness.

This talk is not about why we must be holy, but how we can grow in holiness.

Thousands of people in the church feel “not very holy” and they want to move into the category of “more holy.”

What will you do and say? How will you help them get there? How will you get there?

  • Will you give them legalism?
  • Will you give them license?
  • Will you give them platitudes?
  • Will you ignore the topic altogether we are gospel people and gospel people don’t talk about personal holiness?
  • How do Christians grow in godliness?

That’s the question of this message. And here is my answer: Spirit-powered, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Paul says that he is last (v. 8) and least (v. 9), but, v. 10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

Paul is not saying, “don’t judge, God made me this way.” He’s saying, “I’m an apostle by the grace of God. I may be one untimely born. I may be completely undeserving. I may not have the history that the other apostles have. But I am still an apostle by God’s grace.”

Paul says he is “working hard,” and he also says “that’s the grace of God at work within me.”

Our work is not only a response to grace, but an effect of grace.”

Two things you need to understand about the pursuit of holiness: (1) You need to work hard, and (2) God’s grace needs to work in you.

Growth in godliness requires (1) Spirit-powered, (2) gospel-driven, (3) faith-fueled (4) effort.

Sometimes we speak in generalities; good phrases—even biblical—but they can become meaningless (like sports inteviews).

“Just look to Jesus.” “Just bathe it in prayer.” “Just be soaked in the Spirit.” “Just be washed in the word.” Sure sounds clean!

So we need to unpack what ” Spirit-powered, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort” means.


I. Spirit-powered

1 Peter 1:2: “sanctification of the Spirit.”

Biblical image 1: Spirit as power, not a weak little spirit (Eph. 3:16; Rom. 8:9-13)

Biblical image 2: Spirit as light, revealing sin (John 16:7-11), revealing truth, revealing glory (John 16:14; 2 Cor. 3:18).

The Spirit sanctifies by revealing sin, revealing truth, and revealing glory.

When we close our eyes to this light, the Bible calls it resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51), or quenching (1 Thess. 5:19) or grieving the Spirit (Eph. 4:30)—situations where we do not accept the Spirit’s sanctifying work in our lives.

The Spirit keeps flipping the light on, but do you keep running into another dark room?

II. Gospel-driven 

Everyone agrees that the pursuit of holiness must flow from the gospel.

But how exactly do good deeds grow out of good news? How does the flow work? We need to connect the dots for our people.

Two examples:

(1) The gospel drives us to godliness out of a sense of gratitude (Rom. 12:1—“in view of God’s mercies, present yourself”). A fitting response to grace. Piper: Humility + happiness from  thankfulness tend to crowd out what is coarse, ugly, or mean.  If you have anger problems or bitterness problems, you can be sure you have a gratitude problem.

(2) The gospel drives us to godliness by telling us the truth about who we are.

Certain sins become more difficult when we understand our new position in Christ.

  • If we are heirs to the whole word, why should we envy?
  • If we are God’s treasured possession, why be jealous?
  • If God is our Father, why be afraid?
  • If we are dead to sin, why live in it?
  •  If we’ve been raised with Christ, why continue in our old sinful ways?
  • If we are seated in the heavenly places, why act like the devil of hell?
  • If we are loved with an everlasting love, why are we trying to prove our worth to the world?
  • If Christ is all in all, why am I so preoccupied with myself?

We need to do spiritual warfare with the sword of the Spirit.

  • Remember that there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
  • Remember that the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you (Rom. 8:11).
  • Remember that you are a child of God, and if a child then an heir (Rom. 8:16-17).
  • Remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).

Understand your identity. Embrace your identity. Be your identity.

Lady Gaga’s “born this way”—it resonates, it’s a half-truth, and it conceals a damnable lie. We resonate with the idea that “we cannot be something that we are not.” You are absolutely right—but you can be born again a different way.

III. Faith-fueled        

We are justified by faith, and, in a different sense, we are sanctified through faith.

“Sanctification by faith.” This can be a true statement, but we should be cautious about using it because we have to mean something different by the word “by” than we do with “justification by faith.” The two phrases only both work when you mean something very different by them.

In justification faith is passive (to receive and rest). In sanctification faith is active (to will and work).

We need to be so careful here!

Better to say: the pursuit of holiness is the fight of faith—fueled by belief in God’s word to us.

We believe

  • the gospel
  • what God says about our identity in Christ
  • the word of God against the lies of the devil
  • God’s promises

You can see this illustrates in the faith-fueled promises of the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:5, 8; 6:1, 4; 7:13.

The holy life is always a life of faith, (1) believing not just in our justification but (2) believing with all our hearts all that God has promised to us now and in the future, and then (3) acting as if it were really true.

IV. Effort 

Not saying

  • we do it in our own strength,
  • we do it to make ourselves right with God,
  • we get justified by faith and then it’s nothing but work as we get sanctified.

The call of Christian preaching is never to make effort at godliness apart from the power of the Spirit, the truths of the gospel, or the centrality of faith.

But  neither do the realities of Spirit, gospel, and faith eliminate the need for human effort.

“Effort” should not be a four-letter word in your theological vocabulary.

Romans 8:13 says by the Spirit we must put to death the deeds of the flesh.

Ephesians 4:22-24 instructs us to put off the old self and put on the new.

Colossians 3:5 commands us to put to death what is earthly in us.

1 Timothy 6:12 urges us to fight the good fight.

Luke 13:24 exhorts us to strive to enter the narrow gate.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 speaks of running a race and beating the body.

Philippians 3:12-14 talks of pressing on and straining forward.

2 Peter 1:5 flat out commands us to “make every effort!”

Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus says the reward of eternal life goes to those who conquer and overcome.

As gospel Christians, we should not be afraid of striving, fighting, and working.

Ryle: “The child of God has two great marks about him: he is known for his inner warfare and his inner peace.”

Calvin: “As it is an arduous work and of immense labor to put off the corruption which is in us, he bids us to strive and make every effort for this purpose. He intimates that no place is to be given in this case to sloth, and that we ought to obey God calling us, not slowly or carelessly, but that there is need of alacrity; as though he had said, ‘Put forth every effort, and make your exertions manifest to all.'”

Hodge: “In the work of regeneration, the soul is passive. It cannot cooperate in the communication of spiritual life. But in conversion, repentance, faith, and growth in grace, all its powers are called into exercise. As, however, the effects produced transcend the efficiency of our fallen nature, and are due to the agency of the Spirit, sanctification does not cease to be supernatural, or a work of grace, because the soul is active and cooperating in the process.”

Monergism v. synergism is not the right debate for sanctification. That has to do with regeneration.

Bavinck: “Granted, in the first place [sanctification] is a work and gift of God (Phil 1:5; 1 Thess. 5:23), a process in which humans are passive just as they are in regeneration, of which it is the continuation. But based on this work of God in humans, it acquires, in the second place, an active meaning, and people themselves are called and equipped to sanctify themselves and devote their whole life to God. . . .”

We don’t just say “get more gripped by the gospel.” We also need to work. We don’t hold to Keswick’s “let go and let God.” Sanctification is not by surrender but by divinely enabled toil and effort.

V.  Applying this to ourselves and to our people.

 To ourselves. 

Being a pastor is hard work.

Colossians 1:28-29: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

People should see in us an example of faithful toil.

What about workaholics? Family neglect? Lack of sleep? We can’t work too hard (just like you can’t be too gospel-centered or too focused on grace). But we can work in the wrong way (just like we can be gospel obliterating or have a one-dimensional view of grace). We can work in an imbalanced way (or not work hard at resting or turning away from emails or saying no to requests).

No one is in danger of working too hard—but we can be working very foolishly. You need to work hard at resting, at not being distracted, at being present when you come home in the evening, to guard your day off. Working 80 hours a week as a pastor is not hard work—working 60 is. It’s easy to be a lazy workaholic.

 To our people.

I think many of us are getting scared to tell people to do some stuff—and not do some stuff. The Bible is full of lots of texts telling God’s people to do things (Great Commission—teaching them to obey the commands of Jesus!).

I don’t meet any hardcore antinomianisms (against the law). But plaguing some of our churches could be nomophobia (afraid of the third use of the law). But law came after gospel. Ten commandments after deliverance.

If you preach on David and Bathsheba and never say anything about great David’s greater Son who succeed for David failed, then you aren’t connecting the dots.

But if you preach on David and Bathsheba and don’t say anything about adultery and sexual sin and how the thing David had done displeased the Lord, then you aren’t preaching the text. It ends: “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”

Luke 18: the parable is told so that they won’t stop praying and will not lose heart. There’s a legalistic way to lay into people about this—it’s easy to do. Everyone feels guilty for everything you’re talking about. But as an alternative, the climax of a sermon on prayerlessness ends with forgiveness. There are lots of things to motivate us in the text (elect, God as father, faith).

Preach not just the content, but the mood of the text.

You cannot assume that everyone in your church needs a kick in the pants—or a hug. Preach the text!

Making an effort to be holy is not somehow sub-gospel.

The gospel is the good news about salvation. And salvation is in three tenses—it’s about God saving you

  • from wrath
  • unto holiness
  • for glory.

Don’t give people half a Savior—half of the grace of God. When we get to obedience we are still talking about grace—the grace that will change you.

Benediction from Hebrews 13:20-21:

    Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Rock of Ages:

Rock of ages, cleft for me,

let me hide myself in thee;

let the water and the blood,

from thy wounded side which flowed,

be of sin the double cure;

save from wrath and make me pure.

With faith in the gospel, the power of the Spirit, and the grace of God at work within us, we will be teaching pigs to fly.

But without the biblical exhortation to effort we’ll be confused, wondering why sanctification isn’t automatically flowing from a heartfelt commitment to gospel-drenched justification. We’ll be waiting around for enough faith to really “get the gospel” when God wants us to get up and get to work (Phil 2:11-12).

When it comes to sanctification, we need to understand two points: (1) holiness does not happen apart from trusting, and (2) trusting does not put an end to trying.

View Comments


37 thoughts on “T4G 5: Kevin DeYoung, “Spirit-Powered, Gospel-Driven, Faith-Fueled Effort” (1 Corinthians 15:10)”

  1. Thank you again. This message was superb.

  2. John Phillips says:

    You said, “I want to take this time to talk”. Was that literally or figuratively speaking? If literal, where might one hear this presentation?

    1. John Botkin says:

      It will eventually be here along with the other talks:

  3. John Botkin says:

    That was very helpful! Maybe the most help sermon on the pursuit of holiness and sanctification I have read (heard). Thanks for posting.

  4. Matt Dabbs says:

    You mentioned the Reformed movement and new-Calvinism. This is one area I really need to read up on. It seems 99% of young, well known preachers in America are in that camp. Is there anything you would recommend reading to get me up to speed on this? I know the core beliefs of Calvinism but I am just not read up on the New Reformed/New Calvinism that seems to be so popular today. Any suggestions for further reading?

      1. Matt Dabbs says:

        Thanks…just ordered it.

  5. DJ Jenkins says:

    It’s hard not to read this without any reference to Tullian Tchividjian but know that DeYoung (I think, anyways) is basically giving a message to rebut Tullian’s position. That makes me feel a little awkward, because by not mentioning Tullian it seems DeYoung is hiding the real debate. On top of that, I am not sure he is representing Tullian’s position well.

    Anyone else feel this way? I am grateful for the message, but can’t help but get the feeling DeYoung is a little upset at Tullian’s position.

    1. Chris Taylor says:

      My take is a bit different. DeYoung is trying to present what he finds to be an essential biblical truth. Sometimes he gets dragged into a debate that forces him to 1) defend his position, and 2) present an opposing view. For all I know, he may at times pursue the debate with others. If it is essential, then he is justified.

      But, just because he has debated a subject in the past, and will likely debate it again in the future, that doesn’t mean that every time he takes up the subject, he has to frame it in the context of a debate.

      Sometimes it’s just nice to preach the gospel.

      1. Justin Taylor says:

        Well said, Chris. I agree.

    2. FirstRP says:

      Personally, I couldn’t read what was said and not think “Tullian.” I’d be hesitant to impute that to Kevin though. He’s making a necessary defense against the “nomophobia” that is being preached from so many “Calvinistic” pulpits.

      1. Stephen says:

        I recently read Tullian’s “Jesus+Nothing” and I thought Kevin’s negative remarks (“we shouldn’t do this…”) echoed much of what was in the book. He didn’t need to use Tullian’s name to make it clear. I personally am helped by both Tullian and Kevin on this issue. I kinda get the feeling that Tullian is trying to swing the pendulum over from one unhealthy side of performance-legalism and Kevin is trying to keep it in the center of orthodoxy, and both approaches may be necessary at times, provided the gospel is always kept in focus.

        Beyond that, I have to give compliments to Justin for the wonderful formatting and display of the outline/summaries provided here. I assume that these have been provided by the speakers beforehand, because they would be extraordinary if typed up on the spot!

        1. John Botkin says:

          Yes, the outlining is great, but I think it would be more extraordinary if he was privileged enough to score the outlines ahead of time!

        2. DJ Jenkins says:

          I think you’re totally right Stephen that Tullian is purposely trying to swing the pendulum. I think he likes saying thins provocatively in order to shock us into his point (reminds me of a guy named John Piper in that regard). And I think you’re right that Kevin is probably saying “you can’t say it like that” and showing a different side.

          I fear they are missing each other, but not sure.

    3. Jon Mathys says:

      Yes. Whether he’s right or wrong on this issue, it’s ironic that he presents something at T4G that has been a dividing issue on the role of the Gospel in the ordo salutis. Not very “T4G” of him. Of course, without any lengthy confessional constraints or clear definition on what this “togetherness” consists of, he pretty much has this freedom.

      1. Justin Taylor says:

        So thankful no one in the confessional PCA is having this debate!

        1. Jon Mathys says:

          Indeed, they are. But then again, what isn’t the PCA debating? However, this is not a PCA conference. Although I’m not PCA, the WCF clearly defines what constitutes true Christian unity/liberty; T4G unites Christians around something that no one seems interesting in clearly defining. They are defining for an entire generation of Christians what constitutes Christian unity, regardless of ecclesiastical sanction or historical dialogue. This seems problematic to me.

          1. FirstRP says:

            Well said, Jon!
            I can’t help but think that T4G is a largely Baptist attempt at trying to be more Presbyterian.

            1. Jon Mathys says:

              not Presbyterian. Just the opposite. This is just another recapitulation of the fusion of the English Brownists and the Mennonites, a rejection of all things Presbyterian.

  6. Chris says:

    Thanks for posting this Justin. That is a great piece of work by Kevin DeYoung on personal holiness. I genuinely can’t wait for his book on this. It’s a common sense, biblical approach to such an important topic for the church, and regardless of whether or not it is an implicit rebuttal to some corners of the church, this is a pretty good model of faithful bible handling and application. I have been edified and changed by reading it.

  7. G-Knee says:

    Excellent. Thank you…something I have been thinking through for a while. I appreciate your discussion on this topic.

  8. Mike says:

    This is certainly a topic that I wrestle with. Can grace have the last word? Can we end our messages with gospel without adding a “but…”? My natural self always wants to add something to grace, I just can’t let it be. It’s too good to be true.

    1. Chris Taylor says:


      Grace can have the last word if you word it like Paul:

      “I thank God that I worked harder than them all, yet it was not I, but the grace of Christ working in me.”

      It would be false to switch up the order:

      “I thank God that the grace of Christ is working in me, yet it is not so much grace, but it is I working harder than them all”

      I agree, let grace have the last word.

  9. mark mcculley says:

    Nobody seems to be having a discussion about if election and definite atonement are part of the gospel. And even the discussion about “synergism” in sanctification is supposedly not about “synergism” in justification. Because it’s assumed that all agree that regeneration is God working alone.

    1. We need to define what we mean by “regeneration”. Since the Bible word is “new birth”, we need to think about this new birth in terms of “effectual calling” by the power of the Holy Spirit with the word of the gospel. We need to get away from the idea that “regeneration” is a “change in substance” and that there is a time gap between it and the hearing of the gospel.

    2. We need to define “in Christ” in terms of justification. Although the Bible does teach that the sheep are always in Christ by election, Romans 16 teaches that some of the sheep are in Christ before other of the sheep. This change is not a first of all a change of regeneration but legally a change of state before God. To be in Christ in this way is to be justified. Union with Christ IS justification, legal union with Christ and His work and His benefits.

    3. God justifies the ungodly. God does not justify because of faith. God does not justify because God has changed the person’s nature. God changes the person because God has justified the person. The change from a belief in the false gospel to the true gospel is evidence of justification, but it is never the reason for God justifying.

    Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God, that you were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were called…”

    Roman 6:20 “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”

    As long we define union as regeneration and judge saved and lost by moral improvement (stop your sinning and be less selfish), we will be tempted to minimize the gospel of justification and judge by a standard for “our living” that would approve Mormon, Romanist, and Arminian false gospels.

    1. Jon says:


      I think you might be confusing ordo and historia language. Union equals justification? It includes it but does not exhaust it, to argue that it equals justification is a Lutheran stance. WLC 69 is a helpful summary on what the Reformers held in terms of union.

      Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?

      A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

      1. Jon Mathys says:

        Jon, ‘union equals justification’ is not a Lutheran stance. Read the Formula of Concord or just the Augsburg Confession. I’m not a Lutheran, but we need to give them some credit. They have robust ordo.

      2. mark mcculley says:

        I am just figuring out that one is supposed to “reply” under the specific post. Gaffin (Faith not Sight) quotes the Lutheran Mueller:
        “justification produces sanctification…Sanctification follows
        justification as its effect.” and “Justification effects the mystical union by which the Holy Trinity, in particular the Holy Spirit, dwells in the believer…

        1. Jon Mathys says:

          Sure. But this is not “union equals justification.” What you’re quoting is taught by Lutheran and Reformed sources.

          Here’s a quote from Owen: “The doctrine of justification is directive of Christian practice, and in no other evangelical truth is the whole of our obedience more concerned; for the foundation, reasons, and motives of all our duty towards God are contained therein.”

          Here’s a sample from Warfield (explicitly contradicting Gaffin’s thesis btw): “Justification and sanctification are thought of as parallel products of faith. This is not, however, the New Testament representation. According to its teaching, sanctification is not related to faith directly and immediately, so that in believing in Jesus we receive both justification and sanctification as parallel products of our faith; or either the one or the other, according as our faith is directed to the one or the other.

          Sanctification is related directly not to faith but to justification; and as faith is the instrumental cause of justification, so is justification the instrumental cause of sanctification. That which binds justification and sanctification together is not that they are both effects of faith – so that he who believes must have both – because faith is the condition of both alike.”

          Here’s a quote from Brakel: “Since justification is the fountain [of sanctification], it therefore defines the proper manifestation of sanctification and its true essence. One must, therefore, with all his might endeavor to attain to justification and to being assured of this. He who endeavors to attain to sanctification upon another foundation has gone astray, will never attain to it, and will never make progress in it.”

          The lesson? Don’t learn historical theology from Westminster Philly.

          1. Jon Mathys says:

            By the way, Gaffin has already gone back and detracted much of what he wrote in “By Faith Not By Sight.”

  10. mark mcculley says:

    Jon, I think you might want to read Bruce McCormack and Mike Horton about “union”. They will not sound the same as Tipton and Gaffin and Garcia and Evans (and the Torrances). I never said that the “union” category is exhausted by the legal. On the other hand, despite formal nods in the direction of the legal, there are many who insist that “union” is not the legal, but something prior to the legal and more “real”. And there is confusion of “Christ in you” with “you in Christ”.

    I am asking two things.

    1. I ask that we define “union”. It does no good to agree that “union” has various aspects (ie, it’s by election and it’s legal also) if we then go on from that to use the word “union” to mean something very close to “regeneration” or “definitive sanctification” or “break with the pattern of sin”.

    Supposedly, regeneration and sanctification and break with sin are all also results of “union”. So what is “union” and why does it come down in the end to assuming that it means the work of the Spirit in the elect sinner? (btw, we need to define words like “regeneration” and “sanctification” also. Regeneration is not the only non-synergistic work of God. Regeneration is the fruit of the atonement, which is non-synergistic).

    2. I am asking that we locate what we say in specific Biblical texts. For example, Romans 6 is certainly a key text on the relationship of justification and the Christian life. Many read Romans 6 as if it were saying: don’t worry about that two legal heads stuff in Romans 5, because there is another answer besides justification as to why we don’t sin, and that is “union”.

    Others (like Haldane) read Romans to say that the answer to the question about the Christian life is not something else besides legal identity with Christ’s death and resurrection. We read Romans 6:7 as saying that the answer continues to be “justified from sin”.
    We insist on that because Christ became dead to sin, was justified from sin, and that certainly was NOT “regeneration” or the work of the Spirit in Him. We insist on reading Romans 6 in terms of “sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law”.

    Others of course read Holy Spirit baptism into Romans 6. They don’t talk about Christ giving the Spirit (which is not in Romans 6). They talk about the Spirit giving Christ (which is also not in Romans 6). Others talk about the sacramental water of the church. But it is no way acceptable to them to think that Romans 6 is still about justification and legal identification. They already have their minds made up—not simply that the legal does not exhaust Romans 6, but that Romans 6 is not at all about the legal.

  11. mark mcculley says:

    The next time you read somebody quoting again that same old Calvin paragraph about “union” (as long as outside us, 3:11:10), please also read L Berkhof(his systematic, p452):

    “It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. “

    “Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing (or future) condition, but on that of a gracious imputation–a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.”

  12. mark mcculley says:

    In Gaffin’s book By Faith, he makes much of a difference between Reformed and Lutheran. Gaffin claims that Lutherans put “union” after justification. But I still think the more basic question is the definition of “union”.

    Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”

    Romans 8:10–”But if Christ is IN YOU, although the body is dead
    because of sin, the Spirit is life BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

    Galatians 4:5-6 –”to redeem those who were under the law, so that we would receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

    Imprecise “union” talk can be very dangerous. SOME theologians (Kevin Dixon Kennedy, Torrance) are using the concept of “union” to say that the atonement which really matters is the Spirit’s application of Christ’s death. Therefore, no double jeopardy, they say, unless somebody for whom Christ died has been “united to Christ.” In other words, SOME OF THEM TEACH THAT CHRIST DIED ALSO FOR THOSE WHO WILL PERISH.

    It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and
    another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death
    saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of
    God’s justice.

    Although John Owen taught that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, Owen did not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Owen taught with Romans 6 that the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are “placed into” that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

    But some folks now are using “union” talk to change the meaning of the atonement and accuse the rest of us with thinking there is no need for faith. If the substitution for sins has already been made, they say, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it. This is the claim made by SOME who use “union” to make the application of the atonement to be the atonement.

    But it’s clear that Owen did not teach justification apart from faith. It’s also clear that Owen did not teach that faith was a mere recognition that we were already justified. (See Carl Trueman’s various books and essays on John Owen). “Unionists” should not ignore Owen’s careful distinction between the atonement and the legal application of the atonement.

    Some folks now locate the efficacy of the atonement not in Christ’s
    propitiation itself but only in the efficacy of regeneration and faith to unite people with that propitiation. This is their argument: “you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice.”

    But otherwise, it is claimed, you can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to these folks, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the specific sins of sinners. So, again according to them, it’s the “union” which designates for whose sins Christ died.

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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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