Law and Grace

Sanctification, Faith and Works: An Index of Recent Web Debate

Updated 6/13/14

Debates about various aspects of the doctrine of sanctification have been around for a long time. In the summer of 2011, a fresh round of debate on sanctification, works, faith, depravity, justification and union with Christ broke out on the Web and has continued, in one form or another up to the present.

Because the exchange has featured skilled and articulate participants, it has also been insightful. The following is offered as a tool for the benefit of anyone interested in studying the matter from the perspective of recent interactions among theologically conservative, mostly (but not entirely) Reformed leaders.

A few notes appear below, randomly. I hope to eventually annotate most of these entries more fully and fairly.

Despite the length of this list of links, it is not comprehensive. Feel free to post other links of importance in the comments.

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From the Archives: Romans 7 – Believer or Unbeliever?

The interpretation of Romans 7 is long disputed. My wife once told me that as a Christian teen she read Romans 7:14ff in the Living Bible and thought, “That is me!” Was she wrong in her hermeneutics? Is Paul talking about his Christian or pre-Christian experience in this very auto-biographical chapter?

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (ESV, Rom. 7:14-19)

Here are some arguments for the pre-conversion and post-conversion positions. You will be able to tell where I stand.

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Theology Thursday - More from Reformed Baptists on the Christian & the Law

On “Theology Thursday,” we feature short excerpts on various areas of systematic theology, from a wide variety of colorful (and drab) characters and institutions. We hope these short readings are a stimulus for personal reflection, a challenge to theological complacency, and an impetus for apologetic zeal “to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints,” (Jude 3).

From Samuel Waldron and Richard Barcellos, A Reformed Baptist Manifesto: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church (Palmdale, CA: RBAP 2004), 41-47 (excerpts).

The first and central practical implication to be drawn from all that has been said this: We learn the delusion and danger of divorcing law and grace. Law and grace must be distinguished, but they must never be divorced.

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Theology Thursday - Reformed Baptists on the Christian & the Law

On “Theology Thursday,” we feature short excerpts on various areas of systematic theology, from a wide variety of colorful (and drab) characters and institutions.

From Samuel Waldron and Richard Barcellos, A Reformed Baptist Manifesto: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church (Palmdale, CA: RBAP 2004).

The word antinomian simply means against law. There are various types of Antinomians, but in some way or another, all Antinomians deny that the Ten Commandments as a unit are a rule of life for the Christian. Historically, Antinomians have been labeled differently, depending on the type of antinomianism to which they adhere.

Practical Antinomians not only teach against the law in the Christian life, they often advocate lawless living. Doctrinal or Moderate Antinomians, however, do not advocate lawless living, but they deny the third use of the law (i.e. the Ten Commandments as a rule for Christian living) or, at best, advocate it but redefine what law means … The Ten Commandments function as the epitome of the Moral Law in the Bible, as we will see. Many in our day deny this crucial fact. Many Christians in our day are, therefore, Antinomian in some sense.1

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Theology Thursday - More from Arminius on the Law & the Christian

On “Theology Thursday,” we feature short excerpts on various areas of systematic theology, from a wide variety of colorful (and drab) characters and institutions. Some are orthodox, but decidedly outside the Baptist orbit. Others are completely heretical. Regardless of heresy or orthodoxy, we hope these short readings are a stimulus for personal reflection, a challenge to theological complacency, and an impetus for apologetic zeal “to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).

From The Works of Jacob Arminius, vol. 1, “Disputation 13 - On the Comparison of the Law and the Gospel.” Courtesy of The Wesley Center.

The Saints Under the Old Testament

But, lest any one should suppose that the Fathers who lived under the law and the Old Testament, were entirely destitute of grace, faith and eternal life; it is to be recollected that even at that period, the promise was in existence which had been made to Adam concerning “the Seed of the woman,” (Genesis 3:15,) which also concerned the seed of Abraham, to whom “the promises were made,” (Galatians 3:16,) and in whom “all the kindreds of the earth were to be blessed;” (Acts 3:25) and that these promises were received in faith by the holy fathers.

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Why "Preach the Gospel to Yourself" Is Not Enough

A battle has been raging for some years now regarding how believers progress in sanctification. It has probably been raging in one form or another for centuries. For those who have not been following it, a few words on why the question is important.

First, by definition, genuine believers want their character and conduct to please the One they call Lord. Second, they also discover quickly by experience (if not by reading the NT) that they do not immediately please Him completely and consistently. Third, they want to know what they should do to improve. In short, “What must I do to be sanctified?” is a question every true disciple is interested in answering correctly.

One school of thought that has made major inroads in the last few years generally reacts negatively to calls to Christian duty and obedience—especially when those calls focus on our nonconformity to the world we live in. Warnings against “legalism” and appeals to “get the gospel right” or to be truly “gospel centered” are typical. To the extent that this perspective offers a clear view of sanctification at all, it often boils down to “just preach the gospel to yourself; that’s all you need to do; God will do the rest.”

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