Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some Clarifications on Faith, Works, Justification and Sanctification

EDITOR'S NOTE: Recently I posted a video of John Gerstner teaching about justification. Afterwards, I had a long conversation with Tony Hayling about the pros and cons of Gerstner's choice of words. Tony eventually sent me the following treatise, which was a wonderful gift. It is an exposition of justification and sanctification by faith alone, the like of which I have rarely seen. I don't think Gerstner would disagree with what's written here, but Tony makes some important points that the video leaves out. Frankly, I rank this on a par with Luther's famous treatise on Justification by Faith. I doubt I am overstating the case. Like Luther, Hayling takes us to the Gospel, and Christ, and grace, and a sovereign God for EVERYTHING related to our salvation. Unlike Luther, Hayling believes the book of James is canonical.

Justification and Sanctification by Faith
By Tony Hayling

Justification is about what Jesus has done. Sanctification is about abiding in what Jesus has done. IF one is truly justified then one HAS BEEN sanctified in the sense of being set aside for holy use (like the vessels in the temple were sanctified).

The frequent misapplication of the complementarian idea that we have a "duty faith" to PRODUCE good works IF we are justified (by which some mean "saved") is actually a Roman Catholic heresy. It's where Tetzel made his living. It's where Luther stood in the breach and refused to budge. The Catholics never had a problem with salvation by grace through faith - their problem was the tiny, tiny word "alone."

Either we are saved (meaning the whole ball of wax from justification to glorification) by grace alone through faith alone or we are saved by a grace which gets us started, but cannot finish the job. We know from Philippians 1:6 that such a statement is heresy.

So I go surprisingly far down the road with those other heretics, the Grace Evangelical Society. But there is a significant difference. They believe that a confession of faith, once made, secures a person's salvation; a person is saved by WHAT THEY DO (even though they can flatly deny it later); and they are saved even if they later deny the faith. True Christians do not believe these things. They do not believe they are saved BY faith, but THROUGH it. It is something GOD does - but it is something that God DOES (in other words, there is evidence of God's activity, namely by the obedience of faith).

Not only is entire salvation something that God did in Christ on the cross for those He came to save, but it is something He upholds by keeping those whom He justified. In fact, He clearly stated that not one of those He died for can be lost (or snatched out of His hand). The problem arises when people start talking in terms of OUR part, as if our not doing that part could have any effect upon what God has done once for all in Christ. The very gates of hell cannot deflect or prevent what God purposed to do from eternity in creating, saving and glorifying His church in Jesus Christ.

The doctrine of justification tells us HOW God saves. It does not save of itself. Faith is the means by which God saves, but faith itself does not save. Our faith is not in our faith. Our faith is always in what God HAS DONE. He has justified His elect and nobody can undo that.

The question arises as to what difference this makes in sanctification. You've heard the truism "We are justified (or saved) through faith alone, but a faith that saves is never alone". I think people mean by this that a truly saved person WILL produce fruit. But they so often misrepresent it by implying that a person MUST produce fruit - thereby driving a poor struggling saint right back to the LAW, when they thought they were saved by an act of grace while they were yet sinners. Who changed the rules?

We will NEVER - NEVER - produce godly works by fear or guilt. That was the whole idea of the law - to show us our spiritual impotency. Godly works are the fruit of abiding in the finished work of Christ. "There is forgiveness with Thee, THAT thou mayest be feared."

I cannot overemphasize the need to get this
exactly right. Works are not really what we DO so much as what God manifests through and in us because we are looking at what He did in Jesus Christ. It's sort of like walking a tightrope over Niagara falls. We keep looking straight ahead (at the risen, glorified Christ) and we're fine. We look down at our own feet and we start to fall.

The warning and admonishment passages, apart from Christ, can only kill the soul. They are law.
They say "do this or else". But that is not the gospel. The gospel says, "Jesus Christ did this for you - believe in Him". As Paul rightly said, there is nothing wrong with the law. It is good and perfect and not one jot or tittle will pass away. But it lacks the power to save. It can condemn and it can kill. In fact, that is its purpose in the drama of redemption AND sanctification.

Why begin in the spirit and finish in the flesh? The commands to do and to act righteously exist as pedagogues to bring us to Christ. Even in the gospel age. Especially in the gospel age. We cannot maintain or keep our salvation by deeds of righteousness. We "maintain" and "keep" it in exactly the same way that we first received it - by believing in Jesus Christ and His finished work. That abiding is what produces fruit in the true believer.

There might be some confusion about the means by which fruit is manifested. It is manifested through the exercise of our faith - God will neither believe nor repent FOR us. We are means. We are vessels. For a good deed to be done it must be manifested in our words and through our actions. But we step into heresy when we attribute those deeds to our own stick-to-it-iveness. We have forgotten already Who it is that is in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. We are not admonished to work, but to work OUT our own salvation. The difference is huge. Working OUT our salvation is simply being in constant remembrance of what God has done for us. If we truly do this, then fruit is INEVITABLE. But I would never in a million years employ the term NECESSARY. It's too misleading - especially today, in a Christian environment in which people already believe that they are helping God out by choosing to believe Him. The seed of Arminianism has rotted the truth from the root. And it has grown to full blown Pelagianism in many places because people have bought the lie that God does His part and we must do ours.

Jonah 2:9 is clear. Salvation (all of it) is of the Lord. Jonah's saga is proof positive that those whom He justifies, He sanctifies. It is proof that God produces willingness in His people. He does it by revealing Himself to them and in them. He does NOT do it by commanding them to do something and leaving it up to them. That is death. Augustine pleaded with God to command what He would, but to grant that which He commanded. He knew that the command could only
condemn him in his own mind (even in the gospel age) but that God could use the command, through Jesus Christ, to produce fruit in him.

This whole concept is a hill I will die on. It disturbs me that there is a Christianity out there in which people see themselves as saved by the power of God and kept by something that they themselves do - or MUST do. Law has no place except to bring us to Christ. If there is anything we MUST do it is to believe in the One Whom He has sent - period. End of story. But that is not enough for those who would get some trace of human work in by the back door. I'll say it one more time - we are not justified by what we do, neither are we sanctified by what we do. We are justified and sanctified by what Jesus Christ did once for all in His life, death and resurrection. Our job is to walk in it by looking to those facts and believing with the faith that God works in us.

This fundamental truth is so easily perverted because fertile ground exists for the heresy of human contribution even in professing believers. It is taught from many pulpits - even evangelical pulpits. Are men like Gerstner technically right when they use the word "necessary" in the way they do. Well, yes. But what help is it to be "right" by dotting the "i"s when the whole sense is perverted because the listeners have no idea of the nuances involved. 16th Century terms for technical aspects of doctrine play well in Seminary or Reformed blogdom, but will they play in Peoria?

Will we BELIEVE God - that He will produce the fruit if we abide in Christ - or will we go down to Egypt for horses and chariots because we want back-up in case God fails? Are we our own insurance policy? Or is God perfectly able to do what he says He will do?

The truth about law and gospel I discovered without the aid of any modern church - indeed quite in spite of them. And once discovered, it is a truth I shall never relinquish - that it is only by looking to Christ that any good is borne in and through us at all. It is never on account of what we do, nor what we imagine needs to be done that we are either justified or sanctified. Ours is all response in faith to what God has done to make us fit for His kingdom.

I give you below an extract from a rare and out of print work by Luther called "God's Word and God's Work":

The most acceptable service we can do and show to God, and which alone He desires of us, is that He be praised of us; but He is not praised unless He first be loved; He is not loved unless He first be bountiful and does well; He does well when He is gracious; gracious when He forgives sins. Now who are those that love Him? They are that small flock of the faithful who acknowledge such graces and know that through Christ they have forgiveness of their sins.

I see that it is in the seeing, and holding to, and believing of Who Christ is and what He alone has done that the flower of good works blossoms. It is BECAUSE we believe that we HAVE BEEN SAVED (justified and set apart) that we produce fruit. The production of fruit is not to the fruit's credit, nor is it truly within the fruit's power to grow, but that of the vine or the tree.


  1. thank you for writing this...

  2. Arlene,

    Thanks for your comment. This article was copied from an email sent to me by my friend Tony Hayling. I found it so profound, encouraging and helpful that I asked his permission to share it on the blog. I've had to return to it a few times as I've struggled to grasp the wonders (and blunders!) of my own sanctification. I'm glad it has encouraged you, too.

    God has given us His Son, and in Him all that we need for life and godliness.

    Grace & peace,


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