Pastor's Desk

Is There A Disconnect Between God's Grace and Sanctification?

August 7th, 2016


It is questionable whether this question even registers in the minds of most modern professing Christians, since holiness is not currently in vogue in many professing Christian circles today – at least, certainly not beyond vague abstract and theoretical terms, designedly lacking in practical application. However, there remain a number of fundamental Baptist churches and even some conservative evangelical churches that still spend some of their time speaking and thinking about sanctification. And that's precisely where the disconnect becomes evident.

In II Peter 1:3, the apostle Peter glorifies God whose divine power hath given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue. Baptist theologian Nathaniel Williams (1813-1895), in commenting on this chapter, noted that “[T]hose who are elected, are elected to holiness, not less than to heaven.”1 His statement is correct. Philippians 2:13 harmonizes with this in saying, after an exhortation to the obedient and godly Philippian church to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

So what of the disconnect? Exactly how do conservative Baptist churches arbitrarily divorce God's grace from sanctification? They do it by separating Lordship from salvation. In the practical outworking of their doctrine (read, methodology), salvation may or may not be accompanied by a change of life indicative of the transformative power of God's grace. A believer is not necessarily a Christian in their system, because while a believer is saved, a Christian is both saved and characteristically obedient. Or, to put it another way, God's grace has the power to keep a person eternally secure, but is powerless to effect any sanctification in their lives. Thus, where God's grace alone is sufficient to secure a person's place in Heaven, it is subjected to the sheer willpower of man in accomplishing sanctification or holiness in the same person's life. Some churches (focusing again on those that actually spend any time considering the doctrines of holiness and sanctification) have perfected this disconnect to such a degree that they recoil in horror at the thought that salvation and a change in one's life would somehow be inextricably connected.

Yet a connection between God's grace and holiness is precisely what we find in the New Testament. A crystal clear example of this appears in Titus 2, one of the most pointed chapters in the New Testament on what practical godliness looks like in the believer (hint: it's not an emphasis on social justice, eliminating poverty, or finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint). The Holy Spirit, through Paul, makes known the glorious appearance of God's grace (Titus 2:11) and then reveals the following truth about that grace: Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly righteously, and godly in this present world (Titus 2:12). The word behind teaching here is not a reference to the verbal-instruction kind of teaching, like a school teacher in front of a pupil. It is the greek word παιδεύουσα (pai DYU oo sa), a participle that carries the idea of child-rearing or discipline, presenting us with a picture of active instruction (including chastisement) that extends beyond mere talking-points. This interpretation is further strengthened by the following conjunction: that (να, where that” is used in the sense of accomplishing a purpose or result: e.g. “in order that) we should live soberly righteously and godly in this present world. The point? The same grace that brings salvation, also works actively in the life of the saved person, educating, raising, and chastising him, in order to accomplish godly, righteous, and sober living, and a longing for the coming of our great God and Saviour. This principle could be replicated and exposited in numerous other passages of Scripture.

The disconnect between God's grace and His holiness is manufactured by men, and sadly, despite the overwhelming teaching and examples in Scripture proving to us that God's grace is not only powerful enough to justify a condemned sinner eternally, but is also powerful enough to sanctify that same sinner in this life, the normal expectation in most evangelistic presentations and methodologies today is that most people who come to saving faith in Christ will not show much further interest in the things of the Gospel and will likely remain “baby Christians” or “carnal Christians” for most of their life (barring some sort of post-conversion “consecration” or “second blessing” that may occur in a small fraction of conversions). Such a view of salvation makes statements like Titus 1:16 seem confusing and unnecessary. After all, perhaps those who profess that they know God, but in works they deny him, are simply not abominable, nor reprobates, but rather carnal believers on their way to Heaven and to a life of perfection and holiness in which they have no interest during this present life! (Note: Before jumping to make the accusation that this is a promotion or endorsement of the heresies of entire sanctification or second blessing theology, please review our doctrinal statement under the heading “Of Salvation”.)

Is the disconnect a serious matter? Does it simply boil down to a careless or hasty form of evangelism? Does it amount to simply not being thorough enough when bringing the Gospel? Can we agree that the “Christ as Saviour, but not as Lord” movement is simply a matter of a difference of opinion and that the overall aim is the same? Should we overlook the disconnect and continue to have fellowship with those who promote it? Whatever the motivation might be for presenting God's grace in the manner described above is not my place to judge. Nonetheless, I am called to test the doctrine and its fruit according to the Scriptures. When that teaching is held up to the light of God's Word, it becomes patently clear that the disconnect is no small matter. Just how serious is it when men teach that God's grace will not always do what God's Word says it will do?

The verb from which we get the transliterated word blasphemy appears over 30 times in the New Testament, and often carries the sense of making a false report against God. That may seem like an over-simplification, but it is the substance of all railing and evil speech against God. When a man charges God with error, injustice, or some other falsity, he blasphemes. This has to be applied across the board. There is no excuse for the continued and widespread teaching today that God's grace will call us to glory, but not to virtue. To teach thus is to blaspheme against the very grace of God that brings salvation.

1 - Nathaniel Marshman Williams, Commentary on the Epistles of Peter, ed. Alvah Hovey, vol. VI, An American Commentary on the New Testament (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1888), 86.⁠