Are We Sanctified “by” Faith?

Kevin DeYoung has a chapter in The Underestimated Gospel called “Spirit-powered, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort” which I found very interesting. Here’s part of it.

“It is not as if we are justified by faith and then we put faith behind us and just have to screw up our courage and try to be better. No we are justified by faith and in a different sense sanctified through faith. Here is where we must be more careful with our language. Sometimes in an effort to really exalt the grace of God, we will say that we are also sanctified by faith. But you must be very cautious with that kind of language because in order for that to work you must mean something different with the word ‘by’ than you do in justification ‘by’ faith.”

“The faith in justification is a faith that rests and receives. The faith in sanctification is one that wills and works. So if you say we are justified by faith and we are also sanctified by faith, you might be saying something misleading. The word ‘by’ in the first instance (related to justification) means we receive a right standing before God and are counted righteous through no effort of our own. That is what we mean by faith alone. But if we say we are sanctified by faith alone, what would that mean? Does it mean we receive holiness without any striving or effort? We must understand faith plays a role in sanctification, but that doesn’t mean the same phrases for justification can be imported to the realm of sanctification. Better to say, as Scripture says, that the pursuit of holiness is the fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:11-12).”  (97-98)

He continues,

“We must rely on the Spirit. We cannot save ourselves. We have to keep fighting with the power of better promises. The call of Christian preaching should never be to make people better, more virtuous or moral, apart from the power of the Spirit, the truth of the gospel, and the centrality of faith.” (99)

“So we should not say that sanctification is monergistic. I am not sure synergism communicates the right meaning either, but monergism is certainly not the proper phrase for progressive sanctification. The term protects an important biblical truth when it comes to regeneration, but theologians have not used these terms in discussing sanctification. The Bible teaches that in our new birth there is only one working (monergism) and that is God. But in sanctification we have to say that we work as God works through us. Great theologians like Calvin and Hodge were not at all ashamed to say the Christian puts forth effort. We co-operate with God.” (101)

“We must understand that when it comes to sanctification we cannot simply tell people ‘look to the Lord.’ We must say more than ‘get gripped with the gospel.’ We must also say ‘Work hard. Put forth effort.’ We do not want to fall into the error of the old Keswick theology of ‘let God {sic} and let God.’ Sanctification is not by surrender but by divinely enabled toil and effort.” (101) (I Think the phrase he is referring to is “let go and let God.”)

For a thoughtful interaction with DeYoung (not from this book but from another source) on this see Terrance Tiessen’s post here. Tiessen says he taught that justification was monergistic and sanctification was synergistic for about 20 years but has changed his thought on this. He writes, “If we insist that salvation is all of grace, it will not do to argue that although our justification is accomplished by monergistic efficacious grace, our sanctification is achieved through a synergistic cooperation between God and ourselves.”

Underestimated Gospel

The Underestimated Gospel is from B&H Books. It is a paperback with 224 pages and sells for $14.99.

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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5 Responses to Are We Sanctified “by” Faith?

  1. How complicated theologians make things. Faith is believing what God says. So there is nothing more sensible than to do what He says because whatever it is must be for the best,
    That then gets us into more confusion since there are plenty of people who think that the Bible is not a communication from God. (See Romans 10:16)

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  2. Elsewhere I’ve written, indeed insisted, that our sanctification is synergistic in that we are agents acting out what God is doing in us to make us more like Christ. I still think synergism is a good term to capture the biblical model of growth in Christ. I’ll have to re-read Tiessen again, as I greatly respect his years of thought and wisdom.

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  3. The term I don’t like is cooperation. It makes it sound like we’re working side by side with God. God enables us to act. We obey him. We participate in the process, but I wouldn’t call it cooperating and definitely not co-operating. I know it sounds like semantics, like Roger is probably thinking, but it makes a difference in how younger believers (or any) see things.
    Jeff

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  4. I’ve not problem with “cooperation” in so far as I get to define the terms that I use. Nevertheless, I get it that we must be guarded in our speak lest we sacrifice the movement of God on the alter of human achievement. A few thoughts on Philippians 2:12-13 come to mind. These verses seem to illustrate the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. The text does not say “Work to gain salvation, because God has done his part.” Or, “Perseverance depends entirely on you.” Nor does it say, “Relax! You’re one of the frozen, chosen.” Still, it does not say that God is doing the “work” for believers as the command is to us and we’re charged with doing something. I would argue that God works at the level of our wills and provides the determination to obey and the power to carry out His “good purpose.” The work of sanctification (the process of becoming like Christ our Redeemer) is ultimately accomplished by God, not despite our cooperation but on account of it (1:6)! That we do occasionally (and should most frequently) obey demonstrates God’s will to “act” in us; not merely our own acting. Hence, the ability to “work out” our salvation is in us, but not from us (Augustine). A will inclined toward God is always a product of God and never the sheer result of self-determination (Jn. 15:1-5; Col. 1:29). Coming to grips with the reality that God is mightily at work in us is anything but a disincentive. The profound significance that God’s sovereign rule over the universe will never be made contingent by the “free” choices of humans should not only inspire us at the intellectual level, but ignite in us a firm resolve to live every waking moment for Him at the practical level.

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  5. (I re-read my comment and it sounded a little more adversarial than I meant it.)

    Paul, I agree with all of that. I have a friend who uses the word cooperation, and while I don’t like it, I know he doesn’t mean it in a way that we work side by side with God or He does His part and we do ours independently. So if you can define the terms and we understand each other, I’d go with that.

    As you say, we need to be careful in how we express ourselves to certain audiences. I wouldn’t want people to think that I believe that God helps those who help themselves or anything. (smiley thing goes here)
    Jeff

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