Sanctification Is Our Work of Gratitude for God’s Work of Justification, Right?
Wrong. In fact a model of sanctification defined primarily as (or solely as) gratitude-for-justification, becomes very problematic. Here’s how Richard Gaffin explains it in his book By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (Paternoster, 2006), pages 76–77:
In the matter of sanctification, it seems to me, we must confront a tendency, at least practical and, my impression is, pervasive, within churches of the Reformation to view the gospel and salvation in its outcome almost exclusively in terms of justification. …
The effect of this outlook, whether or not intended, is that sanctification tends to be seen as the response of the believer to salvation, defined in terms of justification. Sanctification is viewed as an expression of gratitude from our side for our justification and the free forgiveness of our sins, usually with the accent on the imperfection and inadequacy of such expressions of gratitude.
Sometimes there is even the suggestion that while sanctification is highly desirable, and its lack, certainly unbecoming and inappropriate, it is not really necessary in the life of the believer, not really integral to our salvation and an essential part of what it means to be saved from sin. The attitude we may have – at least this is the way it comes across – is something like, “If Jesus did that for you, died that your sins might be forgiven, shouldn’t you at least do this for him, try to please him?” [I.e. what Piper calls "the debtor’s ethic."]
With such a construction justification and sanctification are pulled apart; the former is what God does, the latter what we do, and do so inadequately. At worst, this outlook tends to devolve into a deadening moralism.
What takes place, in effect, is the reintroduction of a refined works principle, more or less divorced from and so in tension with the faith that justifies. The self-affirming works, those self-securing and self-assuring efforts, so resolutely resisted at the front door of justification, creep back in through the back door of sanctification. The “faith” and “works” that God intends be joined together in those he has restored to his fellowship and service (cf., e.g., Jas. 2:18), through uniting them to Christ by faith, are pulled apart and exist, at best, in an uneasy tension, a tension that can paralyze the Christian life and render obedience less than uninhibited and wholehearted.
Last summer I asked Richard Gaffin to explain why this gratitude-for-justification model of sanctification is misleading, and he explains in this 5-minute clip: