The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (6): Fruits of Faith

The first part of the Reformed faith’s answer to the question of the necessity of good works is the truth of Christ’s gracious renewal of the redeemed and justified believer. Because God renews him he must do good works. His good works do not obtain anything from God, but they are the necessary testimony of his gratitude that God requires of him and by which God is praised. Besides this and following from it there are other considerations. The Heidelberg Catechism’s answer to the question of why the redeemed and delivered believer must do works includes this: “also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith by the fruits thereof.”

It is important for the right understanding of this phrase to understand the purpose of the Catechism in the Lord’s Day. The point of the Catechism is not a fully developed doctrine of assurance. The point of the Catechism is the question, why are good works necessary for the redeemed and delivered believer, in order that the preacher may urge this on the church with all diligence and that the people of God will give careful attention to doing good works?

Further, this part of the Catechism’s answer to that question must be understood in the light of the rest of the Reformed creeds, especially the Canons of Dordt, where there is a fully developed doctrine of assurance, and which doctrine cuts off certain understandings of this phrase in the Catechism. The Canons of Dordt speak of attaining the assurance of election and note that “the elect” attained this

by observing in themselves, with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure, the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God—such as a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungerirng and thirsting after righteousness, etc. (1.12)

The Canons here make assurance basically to consist in assurance of election, so that assurance and assurance of election for the Reformed faith are the same.

Commenting on this portion of the creed in Voice of Our Fathers, Prof. H. C. Hoeksema wrote,

Election and the assurance of election are works of God. They are gifts of his grace. The situation is not that election is the work of God, but that assurance of election is something to which man must attain. If one maintains this, he is sailing in Arminian waters. The conscious enjoyment of the blessings of salvation, including the blessing of the assurance of election, is absolutely unconditional and without any prerequisite that we must fulfill…The Canons here take up the positive manner of obtaining assurance of election. God grants assurance in a certain way.

Hoeksema noted also that assurance of election is “assurance of faith. Faith is assurance.”

This is the point of the Catechism with its phrase as well. It speaks of the way along which God grants assurance. The English translation obscures this point. The English has “assured of…his faith by the fruits thereof” (emphasis added). It appears to make works the instrument of assurance. The German rather has “aus seinen früchten,” which emphasizes not the means of assurance, but that from which assurance comes to the believer. The point is exactly the same as in the Canons, namely that the life of good works is the way along which God grants assurance. This is a totally different idea than the teaching that works are the means, or instruments, of assurance or that works attain, obtain, or merit assurance. The works of faith are not the instruments to obtain assurance, nor are they the means to have that assurance. This is impossible since faith is assurance, full assurance. Neither can those works obtain assurance or be the means in order to have assurance because assurance is a gift of God worked by his grace and Holy Spirit.

The Catechism teaches this truth about works when it calls those works not the instrument of assurance, but “the fruits thereof,” that is, the fruits of faith. This is an extremely important description of works, whereby the Reformed faith intends to deny that works obtain or are instruments of salvation alongside of or in cooperation with faith. This is not the only place the Reformed faith calls works by this name. Lord’s Day 24 says,

It is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by a true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.

Article 24 of the Belgic Confession says,

Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a faith that worketh by love, which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word.

Works, good works performed by grace and the power of the Holy Ghost, are the fruits of faith. Explaining this idea that works are the fruits of faith, the Belgic Confession says in article 24,

These works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by His grace; howbeit they are of no account towards our justification. For it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works; otherwise they could not be good works, any more than the fruit of a tree can be good before the tree itself is good.

Fruits of faith are “of no account towards our justification.” This means that works do not obtain, nor are they instruments or means to obtain, any benefit of salvation, since they are of no account toward our justification. The righteousness of Christ alone is the ground of salvation and of every benefit. The righteousness of Christ obtained salvation and the experience of salvation by obtaining for believers the eternal Spirit by whose work believers receive every benefit of salvation in their conscience, life, and experience. They do not have the Spirit by the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith (Gal. 3:2). The righteousness of Christ alone makes believers worthy of eternal life and demands that they be made perfect.

Driving home this idea that works cannot obtain with God, the Belgic Confession in article 24 goes on to point out the impossibility of works performing that role in salvation:

Moreover, though we do good works, we do not found our salvation upon them; for we do no work but what is polluted by our flesh, and also punishable.

In order for works to be an instrument to obtain some benefit of salvation, they must be in all respects perfect and conformable to the divine law. Our good works are all filthy rags, polluted, and defiled. Works do not give access to God, fellowship with God, answers to prayer from God, or the experience of God as our God. They cannot because the works done by faith and through the power of the Holy Spirit are polluted and therefore punishable. The only work by which a believer can stand before God and live with God is the perfect work of Christ imputed to the believer by faith only.

The faith that avails for salvation and saves wholly without its works is a busy little thing. In this working of faith faith is manifested. Faith’s fruits are works, genuine works of love toward God and the neighbor as described in the law of God. Thus the works of faith show, or demonstrate, faith. In them faith becomes visible. Those works, then, so far from being the ground of assurance are the means to show faith. In this they are and remain fruits and do not obtain the assurance for the believer. Rather, the assurance itself is the gift of God given along that way.

It is one thing to say that along the way of good works—in which God ordained that the believer should walk and wherein by the power of the Holy Spirit he does walk—the gift of assurance comes to him from God. It is quite another thing to say that that the believer has assurance based on his works, that by works he achieves assurance, or that God rewards the believer's works with assurance.

Herein also is an additional thought in answer to the question of the necessity of good works. Good works are necessary as a demonstration. First, they demonstrate thankfulness to God, acknowledging him in true worship as the giver of the perfect gift of salvation as well as acknowledging the greatness and graciousness of his gift. Second, good works are the demonstration of the presence of that gift in the believer who shows thanks, namely that God has redeemed and delivered him through Christ and renewed him by his Spirit, working faith and repentance in his heart.

Since the brightness of God’s face shining on him is dearer than life to the believer, he must be instructed in the way of a holy life along which that gift of God comes to him, and he is to be urgently called to walk in that way.

Failing to walk in that way, the believer grievously wounds his conscience and does not experience the favor of a reconciled God.

To this I will turn next time.

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This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment about this blog article for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section.

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Previous articles in this series:

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (1): A Proper Starting Point

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (2): Justification by Faith Alone

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (3): A Real Necessity

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (4): The Renewal of the Sinner

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (5): Testimony of Gratitude

 

Next article in series: The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (7): Losing the Sense of God's Favor

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The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (5): Testimony of Gratitude

The understanding that works are necessary for believers because God regenerates believers reveals the faulty logic behind the teaching that works are necessary to obtain with God some aspect of salvation. That faulty logic is that obtaining by works is the most compelling reason to do good works, that without the incentive of obtaining with God the sinner will have no real compelling incentive to do good works, and thus that the sinner will be uninterested in doing good works. In this faulty thinking the believer is considered to be one who will actually use the teaching of grace as a license to sin.

Besides the obvious criticism of this logic that every work done to earn, obtain, or have with God is a wicked work, this logic ignores the reality that by virtue of God’s renewing act the sinner becomes a new creature with a new heart, a heart that is thankful and delights to do God’s will. Those who teach that works are necessary to have something, anything, from God view believers as mercenaries who work to be paid. The Reformed faith looks at believers as regenerated creatures in whom the must of the law has actually been made the believers’ inward delight by the saving work of God to write that law upon their inward parts and to give them new hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone. The thought of the believer when he is taught that his works—works done by grace and through faith—do not earn with God and are not that upon which some blessing depends is not “Thank God, I can now live as I please,” but “Thanks be to God, I do not have to earn with God! What wilt thou have me to do, Oh, Lord, my God?”

It is an insult to the believer and his new man in Christ to teach him that he can obtain with God and that he must do in order to have something from God because the blessing of God depends on his works. Indeed, in teaching the necessity of good works to the believer, the preacher must do what the Catechism does when it teaches the necessity of good works and reiterate that the believer is saved and delivered from his misery merely of grace for Christ’s sake without any merit—works—of his own. God himself has made the believer a thankful creature.

It is anathema for the believer who is renewed by Christ to attempt a transaction with God by his works.

Thankfulness, which proceeds from the regenerated heart, is another necessity of good works. The Catechism in Lord’s Day 32 says that “we [must] still do good works…so [that] we may testify by the whole of our conduct our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that He may be praised by us.” The words so that speak to the purpose of God’s renewal of the sinner.

This phrase in the Catechism points out the wickedness of works that are done to have some aspect of our salvation from God: it makes impossible the purpose of gratitude and it dishonors God. It makes impossible gratitude because a work that is done to have something from God cannot be done to thank God. The man who works for eighty hours in a week does not thank his boss for the paycheck. It is owed the working man. Further, the very idea that the believer must do something to have from God, as that upon which God’s gift depends, dishonors God because it says that God did not do everything necessary for his child to have from him in Jesus Christ, and it makes of his grace a wage that is paid to the working sinner.

Over against this, the Catechism teaches that the necessity of good works is a testimony of gratitude to God. This is not independent of God’s work of renewing the sinner, but is the very purpose of God in renewing the sinner. According to the Catechism, God renews the believer so that he may testify of his gratitude. God does not renew sinners so that they can work in order to have from God and to obtain from him by means of those works. He renews sinners so that they testify of their gratitude to him. God saves and delivers the sinner wholly without the merit of his works, and then God graciously renews the sinner so that the sinner may testify of his gratitude by a life of good works. God gives redemption, deliverance, and gratitude.

Thus the professing believer who does not do good works is wholly without this testimony of gratitude. Without it he lives a wicked and ungrateful life and gives abundant evidence that he is also without regeneration, faith, and salvation. He does not lack salvation because of his failure to work, but rather his failure to work is the clear and compelling testimony that he does not have faith, righteousness, and the gift of conversion.

Such is the relation between the renewal of God and the testimony of gratitude that the sinner whom God renews will give this testimony of gratitude. Such is the relationship between the gift of renewal and the purpose of gratitude that the believer must do good works. For the sake of this testimony of gratitude, the sinner must be instructed in the way of gratitude according to the law, and this way of gratitude must be exhorted on him urgently not because he can obtain with God by means of it, but because his God requires it of him and works in him both to will and to do of his good pleasure, so that he gives that testimony.

Hypocrites must be warned that without this testimony of gratitude in a life of good works, they fail to give the one great thing that is the purpose of God in the work of redemption, justification, and sanctification.

By means of that testimony of gratitude—consisting in a life of prayer and good works—the believer praises God. The Catechism adds “and that he may be praised by us.” Just as the life of works and prayer that is performed as the basis of obtaining from God certainly dishonors and displeases God, so the life of works and prayer that consists in a testimony of gratitude to God glorifies and praises God.

Not the least part of this praise of God in such a life is the believer’s testimony that his life of good works and prayer is not in any way the basis for obtaining from God and is not performed as the ground on which the believer depends to have something from God, but to praise and thank him for the free gift of salvation, including all his life of gratitude.

Since the praise of God is the sincere desire of the regenerated heart of a believer, this necessity of good works must be taught to the believer and this calling must also be exhorted upon the believer. Because he is prone by nature to praise himself, he must be exhorted to this praise of God. The praise and worship of God is his chief calling. He does this not by self-invented worship of God or by a self-devised way of life, but in the way of obedience to the law of God and by a life of prayer to God.

Hypocrites and the impenitent must be warned that their unthankful life dishonors and displeases God.

Both of these are results of the renewing work of God as the chief explanation of the necessity of good works. That which God wills he surely performs. That which God wills is a testimony of gratitude to his glory. This God works in the believer. As a consequence the believer must also do good works.

This is the main answer of the Catechism to the question of the necessity of good works. This fact does not come out clearly in the received English translation. In that version the punctuation of the original German is missing. After that first part in the original German there is a period. What follows in the answer is introduced by the German words danach auch, which translates as after this also. So the English should read,

Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image; that so we may testify by the whole of our conduct our gratitude to God for His blessings, and that He may be praised by us. After this also…”

The point is that the first part of the Catechism’s answer must be understood and taught properly. And if that is understood and taught properly, there are additional considerations in answer to the question of the necessity of good works that are to be urged upon the churches and people of God. These additional considerations are based on and follow from the first part.

There are, then, other aspects to the Reformed answer regarding the necessity of good works as taught in Lord’s Day 32.

To this I will turn next time.

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This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment about this blog article for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section.

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Previous articles in this series:

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (1): A Proper Starting Point

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (2): Justification by Faith Alone

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (3): A Real Necessity

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (4): The Renewal of the Sinner

 

Next article in series: The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (6): Fruits of Faith

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A New Year’s Day Message: Diligent in Sanctification


Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” 2 Peter 3:14

Be diligent! That ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless! 

Diligent in sanctification! 

And sanctification, you know, is that work of God's grace in you whereby he delivers you consciously from the pollution and dominion of sin, and renews you in conformity with the image of Christ, and enables you to walk faithfully in all good works, which he has before prepared, in order that you should walk in them. Sanctification is that operation of the Spirit of Christ in you whereby a new spiritual-moral direction is given to you, according to which out of a regenerated heart your thinking, willing, desiring, yea, the action of your whole being, are brought into harmony with his truth and his commandments. Sanctification is that work of grace in you whereby you in principle begin to mortify the old man of sin in your members, and to put on the new man, which is the beginning of the new creation for which you now look in hope. 

In this be diligent! That is, be earnestly desirous of it, and with all haste follow after it! So that ye may be found of him in peace! Without spot and blameless! 

Oh, the blessedness of them who shall be so found by him when he shall come to renew all things! 

To be found of him in peace is the positive way of stating what is negatively expressed in: without spot, and blameless. To be found in peace means that you are so discovered by the Lord when he comes again as being in perfect harmony with him and his will. All the natural enmity, the rebellion and hatred of your old nature is removed. It means that you will be found of him with all the love of your heart going out to him, as being righteous as he is righteous, and holy as he is holy. It means that you will be living and walking as his covenant friend in the world, and expecting the judgment of his favor, which shall declare unto you: "Come ye blessed, inherit the kingdom which I have prepared for you." And to be without spot and blameless means that he will find you unsullied from the world, free from all vice, wholly unblemished, pure in his sight. It means that you will appear before him irreprehensible, beyond all censure. 

Oh, beloved, make no mistake about it, and do not fall in the blundering error that somehow you can of yourself bring about this relationship of peace, and that you can of yourself be so found as to be without spot and blameless. You must remember that sanctification, as is true of all of our salvation, is entirely God's work of grace in us. You must remember, too, that this work of grace is preceded by another work of grace in us whereby he has begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. We have been regenerated unto a living hope. 

Regeneration is the first principle, the beginning of the life of the new creation which we expect him to bring out of the old which shall pass away. It is this grace that cannot perish, while all else, even your old nature, passes away. And it is this grace of regeneration that is the casual ground of his work of sanctification within us. It dwells in our hearts, motivates our entire life, connects us with the living Christ who is the head of the coming new world. Out of the regenerated heart, from which proceeds all your thinking, willing, and desiring, yea, all the issues of your life, comes the holy expectation, the longing for the new. 

Be diligent, therefore . . . Beloved! Also in this new year! 

Which you will find has really nothing new in it at all, except a new period of time. All the rest is really an old world, a world since the flood that is rushing to its final destruction, the conflagration. 

In that world, in which you are expecting the new, make haste to be holy as he is holy. . . . 

That you may be found of him in peace! 

At his coming!

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This excerpt was taken from a meditation written by Rev. Marinus Schipper printed in the January 1, 1972 issue of the Standard BearerRead the full article

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Gospel Truth of Justification (4): Instructive

Good sermons edify. That is, they are instructive and spiritually build up the hearers. When, according to their professors, students in the Protestant Reformed Theological School are deemed ready, they are licensed to speak a word of edification in the churches. When sermon critic committees bring their reports to synod regarding the sermons given by seminarians at their synodical exams, a judgment is made whether or not the sermons are edifying. A primary responsibility of elders in their oversight of the minister is ensuring that his preaching is edifying. The congregation must be built up, grow in their understanding of the Reformed faith and be encouraged in a godly and antithetical walk.

This attribute of edification is a must in theological writing as well. And the believing reader of Gospel Truth of Justification will be edified! If the material in this book was the subject matter of a seminary course, I doubt that the material could properly be treated in one semester. The author treats the truth of justification from every possible angle and leaves no stone unturned. The wise reader, willing to receive instruction, “will be yet wiser” and the “just” reader, willing to learn, “will increase in learning” (Prov. 9:9).

Limiting myself, there are three particular aspects of justification covered in this book, that I would like to highlight in this post. The first is that, as the Reformed confessions clearly teach, justification is a legal act of God whereby the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to the account of the elect sinner (p. 93). That justification is “strictly a legal act of God” that dramatically changes “the justified sinner’s standing before God the just judge,” (p. 94) makes plain what justification is not. “Justification is not the infusion of righteousness into the sinner” (p. 94).

That justification is not the act of God that makes the sinner holy is important to maintain. Why? “Basic to the heresy of justification by works as proclaimed both by the Roman Catholic Church and by the federal vision is the teaching that justification is, at least partly, the infusion of righteousness. This doctrine of justification enables both Rome and the federal vision to conclude that God justifies sinners partly by their own good works, which they perform by virtue of the infusion, and that the righteousness of justified sinners…is at least in part the sinners’ own good works” (pp. 94, 95).

Further, it is important to maintain that justification is not the infusion of righteousness into the sinner because this is to confuse justification and sanctification. Sanctification is the distinct “saving work of God within sinners that makes them obedient, that imparts the obedience of Jesus Christ to them so that they begin to be good and to do good, that infuses obedience into them” (p. 111). Confusing justification and sanctification has the harmful effect of robbing the people of God of their joy and peace. It detracts from the obedience of Jesus Christ as the complete righteousness of the believing sinner, as though the obedience of the sinner must be added to the obedience of Jesus for the sinner’s righteousness with God” (pp. 112, 113). Always the sinner will ask himself, “Have I done enough, have I worked hard enough to please God?”

A second aspect of justification worthy of highlighting is the connection between advocating a conditional covenant and a denial of justification by faith alone, without works. In the chapter entitled “Paul and James,” Engelsma explains that in “conservative” Reformed and Presbyterian churches the root of the denial of justification by faith alone is “their emphatic teaching of a conditional covenant” (p. 432). Their claim is that proclaiming justification by faith alone will make men “careless and profane,” will lead to “antinomianism” and threaten “a responsible, zealous, holy life” among members of the churches (pp. 432-435). Therefore, in order to combat this “alleged fear,” a conditional covenant must be preached. The conditions of faith and faith’s good works must be met, motivating (scaring) the believer to obedience.

This reasoning is warned against in Article 24 of the Belgic Confession, which reads in part, “Therefore it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary, without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation.” The Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 24, Q & A 64 states, “But doth not this doctrine make men careless and profane?” “By no means; for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by a true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.”

Engelsma leads the reader to the one reason the justified Christian brings forth good works and leads a holy life: “love for God.”

Love for [Christ], and for the God who gave him as our redeemer (as we realize in the gift of justification by faith alone), motivates us to serve him and God—gladly, willingly, freely, wholeheartedly, sacrificially—in thankfulness. Only this motivation of the Christian life is pleasing and acceptable to God. This motivation of the truly Christian life is worked and secured only by the gospel truth of justification by faith alone (p. 441).

Finally, the relationship between justification and election is worthy of highlighting. Engelsma calls this a “close, necessary, and significant” relationship (p. 455). “Election,” according to Canons 1.7 includes the bestowal upon the elect of “true faith, justification, and sanctification.” Canons 1.9 teaches that “election is the fountain of every saving good, from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation.” The author points out that among those saving goods is justification. And the “faith” mentioned is the instrument of justification. “That some receive the gift of faith from God” teaches Canons 1.6, “proceeds from God’s eternal decree [of election].” To deny that justification by faith alone has its source in God’s eternal election is gross heresy.

This is the doctrinal sin of federal vision theology which denies that election is the “fountain of every saving good,” including justification, in the covenant (p. 469, author’s emphasis).  The federal vision denies that election governs the covenant and, consequently, teaches that “the will of the baptized child does govern the covenant. Hence justification is by faith as a condition and by works!” (pp. 469, 470).

This “alleged fear” of election by contemporary foes of election is exposed by the Bible and the Reformed creeds. Writes Engelsma, “In reality, what troubles the foes of election, particularly as the fountain of justification, is that election leaves no place for their determination that the will of the sinner himself shall be the source of all his salvation....Heretics desire that justification be by the works of the sinner” (p. 473).

Again, as is the case throughout the book, the author is bold to identify heresy that contradicts the Reformed confessions, tear it up by the root, and positively set forth the truth according to the Reformed confessions.

That the contents of Gospel Truth of Justification are polemical, that is, hostile to heresy, will be the subject of the next post.

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This article was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (1): Timely

Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (2): Comforting

Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (3): Comforting and Confessional

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Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Introduction

As adopted sons and daughters of God, we desire to grow in spiritual discipline. If discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose, then spiritual discipline is the commitment and resolve to serve God in his kingdom. The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are activities that arise out of this commitment and purpose, and thus activities that aim at the glory of God and growth in holiness. These activities are many and varied, including, but certainly not limited to, public worship, family devotions, private devotions, and Bible memorization. All the activities can be summed up with one word: worship. 

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Election GOVERNS Sanctification and...the Covenant?

Christopher Gordon believes that the “sanctification debate” within Reformed circles may have become Arminian (for his article click here). He explains that this move towards an Arminian view of sanctification is a response to what some in Reformed circles believe is “an over emphasis on justification and a narrow definition of the gospel” that leads to “antinomianism.” Gordon writes, “Many explicitly fear that the word gospel is being defined too narrowly. So when people communicate that all they need is the gospel, worry is expressed that maybe this does not include sanctification too.” This had led some to re-emphasize sanctification and “the necessity of good works for salvation.” In today’s climate of tolerance Gordon’s response to the emphasis on “the necessity of good works for salvation” is bold.

In the first place Gordon has the audacity to suggest some in the Reformed camp are guilty of Arminianism! He writes, “I question…how Arminian our current debate has become in the Reformed world with regard to sanctification.” Arminianism is a heresy that was excommunicated from the Reformed camp in 1618-1619 by the Great Synod of Dordt. By raising the specter of Arminianism Gordon is suggesting that there are people within the Reformed camp who need to repent or be excommunicated from the camp. Maybe in time Gordon will have the audacity to move from suggesting to actually charging people with Arminianism.

In the second place Gordon’s response is bold because he responds to those who are worried that an “overemphasis on grace” will lead to antinomianism by appealing to the doctrine of election! Gordon quotes Canons 1.9 in full and parts of 1.7 and 1.8. These articles in the Canons explain that God’s decree of election “was before any of the fruits we experience, including sanctification, both in order and in time.” So Gordon argues it is not a question for Reformed people whether those who are justified by grace alone will also be sanctified. He writes, “The Lord remains Lord even over our sanctification, its degrees, measures, and our ‘good works’ that he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). The intended end was always determined before the means were given! We should be clear in this sanctification debate, Christ completes the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).”

Gordon knows that this appeal to the doctrine of election will likely lead some in the Reformed camp to cry those dreaded words, “hyper-Calvinism.” Twice he speaks of the fact some fear that that pointing to election as the fountain of all the benefits of salvation will lead to “hyper-Calvinism.” Gordon does not define what he means by hyper-Calvinism, but he seems to have in mind the belief that salvation by grace alone means that justified sinners are free to live careless lives. In other words hyper-Calvinism is the same as antinomianism. To his credit Gordon does not retreat in the face of the charge of hyper-Calvinism. He maintains that salvation is all God’s gift of grace that has its source in eternal election and is therefore not dependent on man in any way. (He even makes mention of the Canons teaching on reprobation in 1.16, although he does not really explain the doctrine and its relevance to the “sanctification debate”).

If Gordon thinks he has effectively explained his position so that he will not be charged with hyper-Calvinism he is mistaken. Just as teaching that salvation is by God’s grace alone inevitably attracts the charge of antinomianism, so also, teaching that election is the source of all the benefits of salvation inevitably will lead to the charge of hyper-Calvinism. There may have been a time in the history of Reformed churches when the charge of hyper-Calvinism was legitimately applied to those who abused the doctrines of grace—to those who abused the doctrine of election, for example, to teach that the gospel is to be preached only to the elect. But now the charge of hyper-Calvinism is made against those who merely teach the doctrine of election, not because they abuse it. Gordon may soon be charged by men within the Reformed camp with allowing election to govern, yea even dominate, sanctification. He may even face the absurd charge that because he has allowed election to govern sanctification that he has virtually made election and sanctification synonymous! In the face of such charges will Gordon maintain his position that election governs sanctification?

Here are some other important questions for Gordon. Does he recognize that the so-called “sanctification debate” is intimately connected to the current debate about the doctrine of the covenant of grace swirling in Reformed Churches? Does he recognize that Arminianism is not only being injected into the doctrines of justification and sanctification but also into the doctrine of the covenant? He writes, “Maybe what this sanctification debate needs to recover is a robust appreciation again for the Reformed doctrine of Predestination.” Would he agree that this statement would be equally true if the word “sanctification” were replaced with the word “covenant”? Would he agree that the Canons teach that the decree of election is also the source of the covenant of grace (if you connect 1.9 to 2.8)? Would he agree that just as it is wrong to charge those who teach that election governs sanctification with hyper-Calvinism that it is equally wrong to make that charge against those who teach that election governs the covenant?

By these questions I do not mean to antagonize Rev. Gordon. I appreciate his article. My only criticism is that he should be less hesitant to identify and condemn the Arminianism that has spread as a leaven throughout the Reformed lump. But if Gordon wants to get at the source of the Arminian infection he will have to examine how Arminianism has latched on to the doctrine of the covenant within Reformed circles.

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Our blog writer is Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, MI. If there is a topic you'd like Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us

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