From Justification to Sanctification

I loaned my copy of C. J. Mahaney’s incredible book, Living the Cross-Centered Life, to a co-worker who is a young believer trying to grow out of a severly sinful lifestyle. Bemoaning his lack of reading comprehension at times, he asked me what Mahaney meant when he wrote somewhere in the book (I haven’t seen the quote) something to the effect of, “even though I’m living in the flesh, I choose to live by faith.” Unclear as he was to the meaning of this statement, I told him I could only guess that the author meant that he was not going to rely on his own moral fortitude to be godly, but he was going to rely on God’s grace to empower him to obey his commands. He asked me to write something down about that, and the following is what came out of that effort. Hope you find it edifying, if not instructive in any way.

Rest in the Gospel–The Right Basis

The basis for your acceptance by God is the active and passive obedience of Christ. His active obedience is his 33 years of sinless obedience by which he earned eternal life for you; his passive obedience is his suffering and death on the cross, facing for you the consequences of your sin. Therefore, the basis for your acceptance by God is not your behavior. If the basis of your acceptance by God was your behavior, then you would be trying to earn some reward from God and you would be trying to avoid some punishment from God. The right motive for your behavior as a Christian is gratitude for Christ’s work for you.

Renew Your Gratitude–The Right Motive

Fear of punishment and hope of reward is the wrong motive for your behavior as a Christian; gratitude for Christ’s work is the right motive for your behavior as a Christian. Gratitude is what you feel when you are given a gift. When you earn what you have, you’re only thankful to yourself, and that’s not what glorifies God. Both the basis of your acceptance by God, the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection, and your response characterized by grateful behavior are given to you freely by God’s grace, not procured by your own strength.

Rely on Grace–The Right Source

Grace is not a force like electricity which makes our appliances work, it’s God’s good attitude toward you based on his satisfaction with the obedience and death of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. When you successfully resist temptation, and successfully obey his commands, he has granted this success to you as a gift of his gracious disposition toward you because of Christ.

7 responses

  1. John,

    Just a quick thought, is hope of reward really wrong? The New testament uses that motivation a lot. Also there is the motive to please Christ and that of the joy we get from God.

    Gratitude based motivation can lead to what John Piper calls a debtor’s ethic, trying to pay God back. We should want to obey because God pleases us and gives us so much joy.

    My thoughts aren’t coming together on this right now, but I appreciate your thoughts. That’s a good book too, I’m sure. I really liked Mahaney’s The Cross Centered Life.

  2. Consider the words of Whitefield to Wesley on this very point (in fact, it’s the very source of my phraseology)–I was directed to this debate by my White Horse Inn mentors.

    “Second, you say that the doctrine of election and reprobation directly tends to destroy holiness, which is the end of all the ordinances of God. For (says the dear mistaken Mr. Wesley) ‘it wholly takes away those first motives to follow after it, so frequently proposed in Scripture. The hope of future reward, and fear of punishment, the hope of heaven, and the fear of hell, et cetera.’
    I thought that one who carries perfection to such an exalted pitch as dear Mr. Wesley does, would know that a true lover of the Lord Jesus Christ would strive to be holy for the sake of being holy, and work for Christ out of love and gratitude, without any regard to the rewards of heaven, or fear of hell. You remember, dear Sir, what Scougal says, “Love’s a more powerful motive that does them move.” But passing by this, and granting that rewards and punishments (as they certainly are) may be motives from which a Christian may be honestly stirred up to act for God, how does the doctrine of election destroy these motives? Do not the elect know that the more good works they do, the greater will be their reward? And is not that encouragement enough to set them upon, and cause them to persevere in working for Jesus Christ? And how does the doctrine of election destroy holiness? Who ever preached any other election than what the Apostle preached, when he said, “Chosen . . . through sanctification of the Spirit?” (2 Thess. 2:13). Nay, is not holiness made a mark of our election by all that preach it? And how then can the doctrine of election destroy holiness?”

    The rest of this letter may be found at:

    I wonder if this difference of emphasis between some Calvinists and Piper goes back to his teaching on “New Covenant Theology” in which, if I’m restating it properly, he doesn’t look back to the Moral Law as a guide for Christian behavior, as the Covenant theologians from which I’m learning do? I wonder if there’s some aspect of that teaching which sides against grateful love as a superior motive to reward/punishment?

    I also like what Albert Einstein said: “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

    I did read in one Puritan book, I forget which at the moment, how he incorporated the explicit biblical references to reward, to which you refer, and he reasoned that it was the grease that lubricated the wheel and made it spin more freely, but was not the source of energy that got the wheel going in the first place. That’s the sense in which I distinguish between gratitude versus reward/punishment.

    If I find that reference in one of my Puritan paperbacks in the next few days, I’ll post another comment with the quote.

  3. Now for a couple of Scriptures to consider in reference to my case for gratitude.

    1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.

    Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

    If we love because he first loved us, that’s gratitude. If our faith in Christ works by means of love, then loving gratitude, or grateful love is the foundation of our obedience, rewards are just icing.

  4. Silly me. I left a comment on this post without realizing you had pulled up the stakes and moved here to WP. Here’s my comment:

    Sorry John,

    I forgot about this conversation here. I don’t want to argue about it, but consider Paul’s testimony in Phil. 3, and the author of Hebrews in chapter 12 which says “so run that ye may obtain”. Scripture so often uses hope to motivate us. Hope is a future expectation or confidence in God’s promises. Gratitude looks back.

    I don’t have time to dig up the Piper quotes, but he has lots of Scripture to back it up. I think its in Future Grace.

    Thanks for interacting though. Sorry to bring something up and then bail out on you. ūüė¶

    Thanks for the link to Kingdom Surge too!

    Blessings from the Cross,


  5. John,

    Welcome to WordPress, brother! Everything looks great over here. I’m sure you will enjoy a whole new freedom in blogging.

    But hey, my email is always open! ūüėČ

  6. Oh, and feel free to copy my blogger idea of leaving my old blog up with a link to my new blog. That way you can use your blogger profile when commenting in all the blogger blogs out there. You can see it here.

  7. My point about gratitude is that it is more basic than hope of reward. We look back to that for which we are grateful–that’s justification. We look forward to our “reward”–that’s glorification. There would be no glorification were there no justification. I agree, and have seen in scripture that hope in God’s “future grace” is part of our motive, but is not the foundational part of our motive as gratitude for justification through the blood of Christ is.

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