We cannot just speak of the sanctification in the theological realm and ignore the pastoral implications of our conclusions. To do so is to divorce orthodoxy and orthpraxy and dismiss the impact that this teaching has on our people. It’s not just the textbooks that will be impacted when we get this wrong. It’s the covenant child, the clinging doubter, the weary wife, or the aging senior who will bear the true weight if we err.
So if we think pastorally about what’s being said in the New Law/Sola Fide Debate we realize that where this debate leads us is in two distinct directions.
Let’s suppose that a pastor notices that there is a lack of fruit among his parishioners. Worship may be attended, but the worshippers seem disinterested. They may be apathetic to chatechisis or have begrudgingly serve their fellow members. There could be internal strife or division among brothers with no desire to reconcile. And yes, there could be greivous sin; even sin that must be disciplined.
What is a pastor to do?
He could whip them with the Law. He could demand their obedience to God’s righteous standards. He could plead and fight and remind them of their Christian duty. He may stand up every Lord’s Day and preach hellfire and damnation. He could repeat until he’s red faced that “Whoever loves me will obey my commandments” from that sacred platform.
But I’ve been there I’ve been in that pew and felt the weight of it all. It just made me feel guilty. I didn’t obey because I loved God, I obeyed because I was guilty. I obeyed because, at the end of the day, I wasn’t sure of my salvation.
However, he won’t see true fruit because he’s not working on the root. The root of sanctification is built on the foundation of our Union with Christ. If we want to see fruit of true faith, we must preach the Gospel and pray for the Spirit to work in them.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1
The mistake our New Law brothers are making is they’re making Works the basis of our “final salvation” (again this is a term that has only recently come up). Let’s take Mark Jones’ article where he talks about “ways and means”. Here’s what he says:
“Good works are not, therefore, “merely evidence of sanctity and nothing more.” They are the “way and means” that God has ordained for his children to walk to glory. If we do not walk on this path we will not be saved.”
If it sounds like that famous Norman Shepherd line “brought in by faith, kept in by faithfulness” that’s because it is. If it sounds like we’re repeating the Marrow debate it’s because we are.
Good works are not the means of sanctification, they are the evidence of it. If what Jones is putting forward is the preponderance of what the Reformed Church has held to someone didn’t tell the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism for it says
How are you righteous before God?
A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them,
and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.
Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?
A. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God. I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only.
But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?
A. Because the righteousness which can stand before God’s judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God, whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
But do our good works earn nothing, even though God promises to reward them in this life and the next?
A. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.
But yes, our New Law brothers will try to argue that it is of Grace and Spirit. But this is the third time now and it sounds like they’re trying to make their Nomian doctrine fit a Reformed position.
So what will we tell our people? “Perform good works and live” or “Look to Christ”? Does Christ truly give us His righteousness imputed to us or do we only return to neutral and walk back to Sinai? Is the Law a guide for Christian living or the means by which we obtain or posses our full salvation?
In other words: is it truly “finished”? Can I tell my fellow Christians they are truly “dressed in a His righteousness alone?” Or must they return to the Law to live?