Kevin DeYoung writes:
With lots of books and blog posts out there about law and gospel, about grace and effort, about the good news of this and the bad news of that, it’s clear that Christians are still wrestling with the doctrine of progressive sanctification. Can Christians do anything truly good? Can we please God? Should we try to? Is there a place for striving in the Christian life? Can God be disappointed with the Christian? Does the gospel make any demands? These are good questions that require a good deal of nuance and precision to answer well.
Thankfully, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The Reformed confessions and catechisms of the 16th and 17th centuries provide answers for all these questions. . . We can learn a lot from what these documents have to teach us from the Bible.
Sometimes the truth can be seen more clearly when we state its negation. So rather than stating what we should believe about sanctification, I’d like to explain what we should not believe or should not say. . . .
Error #1: The good we do can in some small way make us right with God. This is a denial of the gospel. The good we do is of no use to us in our justification because “even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin” (HC Q/A 62). . . .
Error #2: We must be good Christians so that God will keep loving us. To the contrary, the good news of justification by faith alone means that we can now “do a thing out of love for God” instead of “only out of love for [ourselves] and fear of being condemned” (BC Art. 24). . . .
Error #3: If sanctification is a work of divine grace in our lives, then it must not involve our effort. . . . Our ability to do good works “is not at all” in ourselves, but we still “ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in [us]” (WCF 16.3).
Error #4: Warning people of judgment is law and has no part to play in preaching the gospel. Actually, . . . The kingdom of heaven is closed by proclaiming “to unbelievers and hypocrites that, as long as they do not repent, the anger of God and eternal condemnation rest on them. . . .
Error #5: There is only one reason Christians should pursue sanctification and that’s because of our justification. The Heidelberg Catechism lists several reasons—motivations even—for doing good. . . .
Error #6: Since we cannot obey God’s commandments perfectly, we should not insist on obedience from ourselves or from others. While it is true that “in this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience,” that’s not the whole story. “Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments” (HC Q/A 114). . . .
Error #7: The Ten Commandments should be preached in order to remind us of our sin, but not so that believers may be stirred up to try to obey the commandments. The Heidelberg Catechism acknowledges that “no one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly,” but it still insists that “God wants them preached pointedly.” . . .
Error #8: Being fully justified as Christians, we should never fear displeasing God or offending him. . . . Even believers can commit “monstrous sins” that “greatly offend God.” When we sin in such egregious ways, we “sometimes lose the awareness of grace for a time” until we repent and God’s fatherly face shines upon us again (5.5). . . .
Error #9: The only proper ground for assurance is in the promises of God found in the gospel. Assurance is not to be sought from private relation but from three sources: from faith in the promises of God, from the testimony of the Holy Spirit testifying to our spirits that we are children of God, and from “a serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works” (CD 5.10). Assurance is not inimical to the pursuit of holiness, but intimately bound up with it. . . .
Error #10: Threats and exhortations belong to the terrors of the law and are not to be used as a motivation unto holiness. This is not the view of the Canons of Dort: “And, 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, . . .
Clearly, different sermons, different passages, and different problems call for different truths to be accented. One is not guilty of these errors simply by not saying everything that can be said. And yet, in the course of faithful preaching and teaching all the positive truths found in a robust, thoughtful doctrine of sanctification should be publicly declared. . . .
You can read Kevin’s entire blog here:
*Sanctification chart from Wayne Grudem