03 June 2014

The relation of grace to sanctification

by Dan Phillips

With the Tullian Tchividjian/TGC controversy, the topic of the relationship of grace to works has come up for fresh discussion and wheel-reinventions. However, you regular readers were kept ahead of the curve by many posts, including this and this. Additionally, The World-Tilting Gospel anticipated the issue with extended treatment of the Biblical teaching relating justification and grace to sanctification and obedience.

Discussing positions "that are barriers to genuine Christian growth," the book looks at a the teaching of folks called "Gutless Gracers." In this use, "gutless" refers to "grace," not the advocates. That is, the term doesn't at all mean that those who promote it have no courage, but that their teaching gives the impression that grace has no real transformative or sanctifying power — no "guts."

The following is a sample passage, from pp. 199-201:

In spite of the PR that Gutless Grace advocates give themselves, the problem with this position is not that it makes too much of grace, and that their critics just hate grace. Rather, the problem is that gutless grace makes far too little of grace. It is those who biblically condemn the gutless-grace position who love the true grace of God in Christ. Listen closely to what God moves Paul to say in Titus 2:11–14:
For the grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared, instructing us that, by renouncing irreverence and worldly desires, we should come to live level-headedly and righteously and reverently in the present age, as we eagerly await the blessed hope and appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, in order that He might redeem us from all lawlessness, and might cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works. (DJP)
This passage, then, is about grace (v. 11). What’s more, it is written by the apostle Paul, whom God assigned a special position of managing the message of His grace (Eph. 3:2). So we must pay close heed if we are to get the “real scoop” about what God means by “grace.”

Is grace, in this passage, God’s way of making it “okay” that we live on under the authority of sin? Is “grace” how God makes peace with the idea of sin? Does “grace” mean that God accepts our giving no thought to His revealed will, floating along with the currents of our own desires on the waves of the world’s trends?

Is grace a passive thing in God, and a “Get-Out-Of-Hell(-But-Still-Live-Like-It)-Free” card for us?


If Paul meant anything like that, he should have written that “the grace of God that brings salvation to all men” appeared in order to “instruct” us that we can live crazily, unrighteously, and godlessly, and that we shouldn’t give a gnat’s toenail about what pleases God.

But Paul wrote nothing of the kind. By contrast, the apostle says that the saving grace of God is a dynamic thing, a transformative, supernatural power. The woman or man touched by the grace Paul speaks of will never remain the same. That person will be revolutionized, created anew. Focus on Paul’s wording:
  • Grace brings us salvation. It effects rescue, deliverance. Grace gives us new life and saving faith. Grace imputes Christ’s righteousness. But it doesn't stop there; grace sees to it that we are really delivered, really rescued—saved. If we have been left where we were found, we haven’t been saved!
  • Grace instructs us. The word translated “instructing” is paideuousa (pie-DEW-oo-sah), which is a word that carries the idea of “education with a pow.” It is discipline, pointed and powerful instruction, training. This verb and the related noun are used in Hebrews 12:5–11, of God the Father’s discipline of His children, a discipline that may be like a whipping (v. 6), and which is far from fun to receive (v. 11), but which has the actual effect of bringing us to righteousness of life (v. 11). Paul’s uses of the verb have plenty of “pow” as well (1 Cor. 11:32; 2 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:25).
  • Grace instructs us to renounce ungodliness. Renouncing is the “negative” lesson of grace—what it teaches us to put to death. It means “saying‘no’ to” these desires, showing them the door (or the shotgun). Not coddling or “gracing over” or shrugging off. This is a necessity for godly living (“by renouncing”; that is, “renouncing” is how it is done). It is something that grace instructs us to do, not something that automatically happens to us.
  • Grace instructs us to live levelheadedly and righteously and reverently in the present age. That means that grace teaches us to live in a way that respects God’s lordship, and thus His revealed law-word for us. It describes a life of heartfelt striving to conform to God’s Word. That’s what God’s real, dynamic grace teaches! A life unconcerned with the Word is a life that hasn't known the touch of this grace.
  • Grace redeems us from all lawlessness. Paul in Titus 2:14 views “lawlessness” as a slave owner or captor, and Jesus as the one who paid the price to liberate us from that bondage. But “lawlessness” is just what Gutless Gracers end up enabling—a mind-frame that doesn’t view itself as obliged to any standard, including God’s. With the Gutless Gracer, “to hear” is not “to obey.” This has nothing to do with adding works to the Gospel; it has everything to do with the Gospel liberating us to be God’s slaves.
  • Grace makes us zealous for good works. Paul surely cannot be saying “zealous to explain how good works are optional.” This zeal is an assured effect of Christ’s saving grace, Paul says. “Good works” are behaviors that God’s Word identifies as pleasing to Him. According to Paul, then, the person who knows grace will be eager and enthusiastic about finding out what God wants of and for him, and about plunging into it with all he’s got. 
Put it all together, and what do we have? Grace with guts, with transformative power.

(Part of a much fuller discussion in The World-Tilting Gospel [pp. 199-201].)

Dan Phillips's signature


J.F. Martin said...


As a sort of quirky providence last night, I watched Tullian's interview on TBN. I will consider it grace that the form of ungodliness I was witnessing made my false teaching radar go off. This was confirmed at the end of the interview when the host lumped Tullian right in with Creflo Dollar and Joseph Prince in the "power" of their teachings.

As a sinner saved by grace, my experience in Christian recovery is that grace has liberated me in a way that I can no longer sin "good." Certainly I sin, but grace with guts causes me to admit it and repent, rather than avoid and justify as I did in the past. As my own condemnation is lifted, grace has turned OBEY from a four-letter word to a God pleasing response to His grace.

Go Under the Mercy ~ John

Michael said...

Dan, very important reiteration of the biblical truth regarding Grace. I agree with most everything you wrote. However, I'm quite certain that gnats do not have toenails. While I'm not absolutely sure, I do believe they actually lack toes. I just hope that your readers, if they are aware of this phenomenon, do not get distracted from the truthfulness of the rest of the post.

Frank Turk said...

Dan wrote a book? It sounds like a really good book.

Since it is his first book, I will pray that it gets nominated for Best New Author of the Year.

Michael said...

I have my copy.

DJP said...

Turk: here's hoping!

Michael: then you were ahead of the curve, and could graciously have pointed that out to others, with the appropriate meaningful eyebrow waggle.

Michael said...

Alas, Dan, the flames that fly off this incendiary blog singed off my once emotive eyebrows.

DJP said...

Yes; should come with a warning label.

TP SockPuppet said...

Yes; should come with a warning label.



bundy said...

Dan- enjoyed the article. A friend and I have been working through this topic while engaged in a study of Romans. The Letters of John Newton have been influential to my thinking on this subject. You don't appear to be in agreement with Newton on this topic. Love to hear your thoughts on Newton's teaching on this subject. Also, my own push back as I wrestle with this topic is as follows.
You wrote: "If Paul meant anything like that, he should have written that “the grace of God that brings salvation to all men” appeared in order to “instruct” us that we can live crazily, unrighteously, and godlessly, and that we shouldn’t give a gnat’s toenail about what pleases God." Don't Paul's writings in Romans anticipate your objections when he writes in various forms, multiple times: "And why not do evil that good may come?-as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just."
Looking forward to your thoughts on this.

Jason Dohm said...

I am in the middle of re-reading J.C. Ryle's "Holiness," and he does what I think is an incomparable job of keeping justification and sanctification distinct but inseparable (as they should be), and of developing the nuances of how grace fuels sanctification. Ryle certainly puts forward Grace with Guts.

Solameanie said...


Frank Turk said...

I love it when Sock Puppet posts comments.

Brad Mason said...

I've struggled with the Flesh/Spirit and Law/Faith themes running through Galatians for quite a while, but I've begun to think that carrying out the righteous demands of the Law is identical in practice with walking after the Spirit. But the difference is a dead man walking by the power of his flesh, vs. a Spirit filled man walking by faith! Please let me know if I'm way off.