Does Justification-Centered Sanctification Lead to Antinomianism? (Episode 366)
The following is a transcript of the audio.
Steve writes in to ask: “Pastor John, can our emphasis on gospel-centered sanctification, rooted in our justification, lead to antinomianism?”
In the sinfulness and finiteness and fallibility and cultural limitations of the human heart any way of thinking can lead to any other way of thinking. In my sin, in our sin we are not rational. Sin is not rational. It is insane. It is irrational. It is suicidal. So if it looks like there is no possible path from God centeredness and justification to a lawless life, that is a mirage. There is a path from anywhere to anywhere in the mind of the flesh. In the darkness of sin two plus two is five. And gospel plus justification is Antinomianism. But that is not probably what Steve is asking. He probably knows this. He wants to know: Well, how might it lead there? I mean, how might it lead there?
So let me just think out loud for a minute. …
Let’s start with a robust affirmation for gospel-centered life. Yes, absolutely. What else would you want your life to be centered on but the gospel?
And let’s start with a robust affirmation of justification-rooted sanctification. Well, where else would you want to root your justification than in the fact that God has declared you righteous before him already?
There certainly is no sanctification for the unjustified.
So, yes, yes, yes. Gospel-centered life. Justification-rooted life.
But the question is: How does the gospel work at the center? How does calling it central give it effectiveness in our lives? There is the question. Until we explain how the gospel centrality brings about justification or brings about sanctification we are just sloganeering, probably. And how does justification work as the root of sanctification? How does the declaration of righteousness bring about the fruit of righteousness?
Paul prays in Philippians 1:11 that believers should be filled, that believers would be filled with the fruit of righteousness. How does justification help that happen? That is where we can go off the rails. And what I have found is that when we start talking about this, the devil is in the definitions or the absence of the definitions. And there is a common saying the devil is in the details. Well, right. Broad sweeping generalizations are hard to disagree with, because they don’t say anything clear and specific. The devil is in the detailed definitions and the truth is in the detailed definitions, and we can’t recognize the one from the other until we get to those detailed definitions.
So on this issue of justification and sanctification the term Antinomianism is often not defined enough for me to know what to say. I am not sure what people are referring to when they talk about it. It contains the word law, -nomian. And anti- means against, or in the place of. So it can mean a person is against the law as a way of salvation. But what is in mind with the word law here? All imperatives? Mosaic Law? Whole Old Testament? Ceremonial law? Ethnic Jewish markers? And what is meant by the word way in way of salvation? Do they mean law keeping as a way of earning salvation? Or do they mean way in the sense of path so that they are saying: We don’t even walk in the path of love which is a fulfillment of all the law?
So I just want to scream sometimes and say: Oh, for definitions, please, definitions. Does Antinomian mean anti godliness, anti holiness of life, anti fruit of the Holy Spirit, anti obedience of faith? It would be a lot clearer if people said what they precisely mean, if they are going to accuse somebody of being Antinomian or if they are going to distance themselves from Antinomianism. I am just constantly crying out for definitions and for freedom from ambiguities in the absence of these kinds of failed or absent definitions.
So here is what I would ask a person who exalts in God centeredness and justification in relation to sanctification. Does your view mean the obedience of faith or the work of faith as it is called in 2 Thessalonians 1:11 or the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of righteousness as it is called in Philippians 1:11 or practical holiness and purity of life? Does your view mean any of these are unimportant or unessential in the Christian life? And then I would say: How important or how essential are they? And then I would say: How does the gospel at the center and justification at the root bring these about? And the answer to those questions will reveal whether gospel centeredness and justification rootedness have begun to undermine a life of holiness or not.
Thank you Pastor John. So you left us hanging on how gospel centeredness and justification work and we will go there tomorrow. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Ask Pastor John podcast, featuring longtime pastor and bestselling author, John Piper. Please visit us online at desiringGod.org to find thousands of books, articles, sermons, and other resources all free of charge from John Piper, and all intended to help explain why God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I’m your host, Tony Reinke, we’ll see you tomorrow.