Issue No 70
Over the past few issues we have been looking at how the Christological maxim “distinct but inseparable” provides a guiding principle for resolving some of the more knotty issues in theology. This editorial, I would like to examine how it sheds light on the relationship between justification and sanctification.
The nature of this relationship was at the forefront of soteriological debates at the time of the Reformation. The traditional Roman Catholic understanding of justification was that it has two stages. The first is the Sacrament of Baptism through which the soul is made just by the infusion of righteousness (baptismal regeneration). Later, when this is combined with dogmatic (confessional) faith in adulthood, the Christian is able to perform works of righteousness which form the basis for the second justification on the Day of Judgment (Canon XI on Justification at the Council of Trent). This two-stage view of justification with the infusion of righteousness means that there are degrees of justification which differ according to the measure of the Spirit’s distribution of grace and the co-operation of the believer. It follows that a person can never be sure that they are in a “state of grace” and assurance is a vice not a virtue. Indeed, Canon XII of the Council of Trent states: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake… let him be anathema.” The Roman Catholic understanding of justification is based on the illegitimate intermingling of justification with regeneration and sanctification.
By contrast, the Reformers insisted that justification must be distinguished from sanctification. Justification is always forensic and declarative. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers rather than imparted; they are credited with Christ’s righteousness rather than made righteous. Luther famously spoke of believers being simul iustus et peccator (at the same time righteous and a sinner) because they remain sinful and yet are credited with Christ’s “alien” righteousness. Sanctification is very different because it is renovative. It involves a subjective transformation in the sinner and results in a change in the person’s internal condition before God. Put simply, justification addresses a person’s judicial guilt while sanctification addresses their moral pollution.
According to the Reformers, Rome’s error was its failure to distinguish these two graces. By conflating them they intermingled Christ’s work with that of the believer – a very serious error indeed. Justification and sanc-tification must be distinguished – that was the cry of the Reformers. And yet they also insisted that the graces must not be separated. Unsurprisingly, Rome levelled the charge of antinomianism (licentiousness) against the Reformers. In response, the seventeenth century Reformed theologian, Francis Turretin, insisted that the Reformers spoke with one voice in teaching “that the benefits of justification and sanctification are so indissolubly connected with each other that God justifies no one without equally sanctifictying him and giving inherent righteousness by the creating of a new man in true righteousness and holiness” (Institutes 16.2.4). In other words, justification and sanctification are distinct, yet inseparable, graces that flow to the believer from the completed work of Christ. You cannot have justification without sanctification because both graces necessarily flow out of our faith union with Christ.
More recently, debate has raged within Reformed circles about the relationship between justification, sanctification and union with Christ. Some theologians have insisted upon the logical and temporal priority of justification over sanctification while others have insisted upon the priority of union, with justification and sanctification being co-ordinated and inseparable aspects of this union. Both camps have looked to Calvin for support.
One of the problems in the debate has been a failure to distinguish between definitive and progressive aspects of sanctification. There is no doubt that progressive sanctification (the ongoing process of becoming more holy) follows justification, both temporally and logically. As Dick Gaffin has noted, “justification is prior to sanctification in the sense that the latter, as a life-long and imperfect process, follows the former as complete and perfect from the inception of the Christian life” (Ordained Servant, March 2009, 106-107). But what about the inception of that process – the decisive break with the enslaving power of sin which takes place at conversion (Rom 6:1-12)? As Don Carson has noted (writing on 1 Cor 1:2), in the majority of places where the Apostle Paul speaks about sanctification, he has this positional or definitive sense in mind (For the Love of God [Leicester: IVP, 1998], August 27 entry). When used in this sense, it is misleading to speak about a priority of justification over sanctification because both justification and definitive sanctification flow out of our union with Christ. This is evident in 1 Cor 1:30 where Paul speaks about Christ becoming “for us wisdom from God – that is our righteousness, sanctification and redemption”. The good news of the gospel is that we get Jesus and, in our union with him, we get all his benefits as well including justification, sanctification and redemption. These benefits are distinct (the declarative nature of justification must never be confused with the transformative nature of sanctification) but they are inseparable. Calvin put it really well in Book III of the Institutes:
By partaking of [Christ], we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life (3.11.1).
Moving on to the content of the current issue, we have five articles spanning the areas of systematic theology, cultural apologetics and church history. On the four-hundredth anniversary of John Owen’s birth we are pleased to publish an article by Benedict Bird examining Owen’s understanding of the covenant of redemption. Bird compares the work of Owen with that of his contemporary, Patrick Gillespie, and argues that both regarded the covenant of redemption as the intra-Trinitarian foundation of the Covenant of Grace. Both considered the “pure decree” explanation of God’s plan of salvation to be inadequate. They did, however, disagree on the covenanting capacity of Christ, the necessity of the covenant of redemption and the resulting atonement.
The second article is a two-part piece by Ted Turnau addressing the subject of Christian cultural engagement in a post-Christian context. Turnau uses the medium of a series of dialogues with imaginary interlocutors to make his case. In the first part, which is published in this issue, there are dialogues with three different characters: (i) the Knight, who represents an activist political approach to cultural change; (ii) the Gardener, who represents the Benedict Option supported by conservative writer Rod Dreher; and iii) the Member of the Loyal Opposition, who represents the posture of “faithful presence”. The dialogues are creative and provocative and they challenge readers to consider how they engage with the secular post-Christian culture in which we live.
In the third article, Andrew Latimer seeks to show how David Van Drunen’s reading of the covenant with Adam impacts his understanding of cultural engagement in the Christian life. He argues that, alongside the “exile paradigm” that Van Drunen emphasises, the New Testament also describes a “conquest paradigm” which is important to acknowledge. Moreover, Latimer argues that Van Drunen has failed to see how believers share in Christ’s Adamic work as the cultural mandate is fulfilled in the new creation.
The final two articles address questions of evangelical identity. On the two-hundredth anniversary of J. C. Ryle’s birth, Ben Rogers examines Ryle’s discovery and defence of Evangelical principles. He shows how Ryle identified five key principles of Evangelical religion and sought to defend them throughout his life as the true religion of the Scriptures and of the Church of England. Sam Crossley’s article looks at how discussions of evangelical identity evolved over the latter half of the twentieth century. He suggests that these changes were brought about by the Evangelical renaissance and compares the propositional approach to defining Evangelicalism adopted by Stott and Lloyd-Jones with the phenomenological approach espoused by David Bebbington. Crossley suggests that, as definitions become harder to pin down, the label “evangelical” may become obsolete.
In addition to the articles, we also feature reviews of Tim Keller’s book on preaching and John Risbridger’s volume on worship in the Bible Speaks Today series. I trust that you enjoy reading the journal and that it is of benefit to you in your life and ministry. As ever, we welcome both correspondence and the submission of articles.
London Theological Seminary
Anglo-American University and Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, London
PT Cornhill Training Course
Foundations is an international journal of evangelical theology published by Affinity.
Its aim is to cover contemporary theological issues by articles and reviews, taking in exegesis, biblical theology, church history and apologetics, and to indicate their relevance to pastoral ministry. Its particular focus is the theology of evangelical churches which are committed to biblical truth and evangelical ecumenism. It has been published by Affinity (formerly The British Evangelical Council) from its inception as a print journal. It became a digital journal in May 2011.
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Iain D Campbell
Free Church of Scotland, Point, and Westminster Seminary
Cornhill Training Course (Scotland)
Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland
Oak Hill College, London
Anglo-American University, Prague & Wales Evangelical School of Theology
The John Owen Centre, London Theological Seminary
Tyndale House, Cambridge
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