Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Law Does Not Sanctify

When we received the gift of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, were we set free from the curse of the law only to be commanded to return to the law in order to be sanctified? Some seem to think so.

I recall a blog post by Chris Ortiz at bemoaning the fact that "[s]anctification by the law of God is not likely to be heard within the padded sanctuaries of the mega-church." Well, I would hope that sanctification by the law of God is never heard in any church.

"Sanctification by the law" presents a huge problem for believers. It creates a conflicting message. It makes no sense to condemn justification by works and then turn around and promote sanctification by works. That which is powerless to justify is just as powerless to sanctify. Sanctification comes by grace through faith (Acts 26:18, Hebrews 10:10) and is the ongoing work of the indwelling Holy Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2).

This is not antinomianism by any stretch of the imagination. I believe the law serves the same purpose it always did: it reveals sin. It exposes to the light of truth that which we seek to keep hidden. It shows us just how powerless we are to save ourselves. It also condemns us. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:10, "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'"

Sin and the law go hand in hand. Indeed, "sin is not counted where there is no law" (Romans 5:13). But Paul reminds us that sin no longer has any dominion over us, since we are "not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14).

Thanks to the cross, we have "died to the law through the body of Christ" (Romans 7:4). More to the point, Christ, the only one capable of satisfying the requirements of the law, "redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13).

So, how then are we to live? We are told to "serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code" (Romans 7:6). In short, it is the Spirit that sanctifies (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2). The fruit of the Spirit "leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life" (Romans 6:22).

It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the law is fulfilled. Paul explains in Romans 13:8-10: "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." He reminds us again in Galatians 6:2 when he says, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."

Note the emphasis Paul places on love. With Christ as our focus, we cannot help but love. But if we believe that sanctification come through obedience to the law, then the law becomes our focus, and it is impossible for us to love our neighbor and bear one another's burdens if our attention is on living up to the law and meeting its requirements. That's an impossible task. However, if we rest in what Christ has already accomplished for us, then we are free to live a life of love as ones who have truly been redeemed from the curse of the law.

What this means is that we will not be able to boast except in the Lord Jesus Christ, "who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). The result is that God alone receives the glory.

I don't know about you, but I find that to be one of the most blessed truths in all of scripture. Soli Deo Gloria!


Anonymous said...

With all due respect, I can't imagine Chris Ortiz intended his statement as strongly as you responded. Obviously, it is the Holy Spirit who works both justification and sanctification in believers. The Holy Spirit works to conform us to the likeness of Christ, which means also transforming our character toward the character of God. The Law reveals God's character, and thus one of Calvin's threefold purposes of the Law is to guide men in life, not merely to make them aware of sin. The (moral) Law summed up in the Decalogue is merely a codification (in "negative" format) of the two great commandments, to love God and to Love neighbor. When I don't know what the appropriate way to love my neighbor is, it is perfectly appropriate for me to reference the Law and seek to apply it in a Christ-directed manner.

But, I overstate my case, as obviously what I've demonstrated above is merely the use of the Law to practice love of God and neighbor, not as a means to sanctification. Indeed, it is the Holy Spirit who makes us holy.

(Incidentally, if I recall my WCF studies, justification is monergistic and sanctification is synergistic... I believe you are Reformed Baptist, does the LBCF frame them similarly? My understanding was that the two confessions only significantly differ on baptism.)

Lee Shelton said...

If Chris Ortiz didn't mean his statement the way it sounded, then it was a very poor choice of words. But I agree with everything you said.

And yes, I think the LCBF is almost identical to the WCF on the subject of sanctification.

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