Does Sanctification Have Any Place in the Economy of the Gospel?
While the Protestant Church is coming off from a week celebrating the Reformation rallying cry “justification by grace through faith,” we need to ask what about sanctification? Does holiness have a place in the economy of the gospel when salvation is said to be from Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone?
Michael Allen unequivocally affirms holiness’ place in the gospel with his new book Sanctification.
The economy of the gospel demands that we confess not only that Christ brings life, blessing, and, fundamentally, God to us, but that in so doing he brings holiness along the way. (22)
The third book in the new New Studies in Dogmatics series, Allen’s book defines holiness by tending to its connections with the character of God, the nature of creation, and the covenantal shape of life with God, resolving this thesis:
The gospel is the glorious news that God who is himself holy freely shares that holiness in covenant with us and, when we refuse that holiness in sin, graciously gives us holiness yet again in Christ. While justification is the ground of this participation in God, sanctifying fellowship is the goal of the gospel. (34)
Below is a short engagement with two central orienting contexts for his evangelical account of holiness, as well as an important contribution by Augustine.
God’s Holiness, Communicated Through Covenant
Allen is quick to root his evangelical account of holiness in “a steady focus upon the holiness of God, that is, the holiness of the inner triune life, so that its communication to creatures can be registered as truly gracious, that is, miraculous and free” (23). He believes that reflecting on God’s own holiness “shapes the gospel by reminding us that any communicated holiness comes by free election and not be necessity or coercion” (35).
Just as justification is communicated to believers by grace, so too is holiness communicated to us “always by grace” (35). Holiness isn’t something we do, but something God does by grace.
Thus, Allen considers the topic of our sanctification “further back by considering the holiness that is God’s, the free initiative to share that holiness that is God’s covenantal action, and only then, the various means and community habits and practices in which that holiness becomes tangible” (35). It is in the context of covenant that God’s holiness is communicated, a covenant that is unilateral and unconditional.
Allen notes the federal theologians of the Reformation particularly connected our holiness to fellowship with the triune God who is himself holy: “Creaturely holiness comes by way of personal communication—with loving and beholding being the key actions identified by [Herman] Witsius to mark this form of covenantal intimacy—and it is God’s self-revelation in ‘Lord Jesus’ which ‘greatly contributes’ to this covenantal nearness, and, therefore any communication of holiness” (36).
Calvin’s famous “double grace” (duplex gratia) is key, where we are both “reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness” and “sanctified by Christ’s spirit” so that “we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life” (Calvin, Institutes). Allen argues “double grace” helps us consider “the gospel’s gracious character not only in the past tense (redemption accomplished) and the future (redemption completed) but also in the present tense (redemption applied)” (38).
Augustine: Christology as Ultimate Foundation
Allen also leverages Augustine’s often neglected work On Faith and Works. He engages several of Augustine’s concerns as it relates to holiness, but here I’d like to point out one of them: how Augustine relates the moral concern of holiness to divine action and the gospel by making Christology “the ultimate foundation” (40) to holiness:
This is to preach Christ: to say not only what one must believe about Christ but also how one must live who wishes to be joined to the body of Christ; to say, in fact, everything that one must believe about Christ, not only whose Son He is, from whom He takes His divinity, from whom His humanity, what things He has suffered and why, what His resurrection means to us…but also what kind of members, of whom He is the head, He desires, He forms, loves, sets free, and leads to eternal life and glory. (Augustine, On Faith and Work, 20)
“Augustine’s doctrine of faith and discipleship is a correlate of his Christology,” Allen reveals. “It is neither lost in his Christology nor severed from it… As a member of the body of Christ and the totus Christus, the believer’s life fulfills the salvific journey. Faith does receive Christ. Good works are also necessary” (40).
Augustine complements Allen’s argument that the holiness of God and the holiness of believers in covenanted unity are inextricably linked.
“We begin with the doctrine of the triune God and his own holiness. Subsequently, we consider the shape of the gospel economy wherein that holiness is communicated to creatures in creation and, then, in Christ’s fulfillment of the covenant… Crucial questions regarding the shape of the holiness that is conferred to the body of Christ through her head will surely follow…”