Having highlighted Five Attractions of Passive Sanctification, here are ten dangers that accompany this error.
1. The danger of lost doctrine
One danger of passive sanctification is of confusing and conflating sanctification with justification, which may end up with us losing both of them. Thus, the worthy desire to exalt justification ends up with us losing it, and the commendable desire to connect sanctification with justification in this way ends up with us losing both. As Kevin DeYoung wrote:
If in trying to honor justification by faith alone we provide the same formula for sanctification, we are destroying the former as much as the latter.
It’s like hot and cold water. When I want a shower, I want piping hot water. When I want a refreshing drink, I want the water to be ice cold. But if I mix the two, I end up have a disgustingly lukewarm drink and a very brief and unpleasant shower.
2. The danger of lost law
There is a real danger here that we lose God’s moral law from the Christian’s life. I’m not saying that those who advocate passive sanctification deliberately aim for this. But it’s the end result at least for many who read and follow such teaching. The only imperative left seems to be “Believe in your justification.”
But if salvation is from sin, and sin is transgression of God’s moral law, then we surely want God’s moral law in our lives at least to help us identify the sins we are to confess and flee from, and, as God’s children, to know what pleases Him.
3. The danger of lost effort
Passive santification seems to focus all effort and work upon resting in Christ’s effort and work for us. However, there’s a lot more effort and work than that if sanctification is to happen. In his classic work, Holiness, J.C. Ryle said:
In justification the word to be addressed to man is believe — only believe; in sanctification the word must be ‘watch, pray, and fight.’
The very same apostle who says in one place, “the life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,’ says in another place, “I Fight,” “I run,” “I keep under my body”; and in other places, “let us cleanse ourselves,” “Let us labour,” “Let us lay aside every weight.
The effort is much more than merely spiritual or intellectual. There’s a muscular physicality to it involving our eyes, our mouths, our arms, our hands, our legs, our muscles, our tendons, our sexual organs, and every other part of our body.
4. The danger of lost motivation
By reducing the motivation for obedience to one item (justification) we lose multiple motivations to holiness. Kevin DeYoung wrote that he found 20 motivations for holiness in 2 Peter alone! I need all the motivations I can get.
5. The danger of a lost dimension
If nothing we do can influence our experience of God’s love, then the primary focus of good works becomes our fellow man. However, the Bible says that, by God’s grace, we can do good works of Christian service to others which ALSO please God as sweet-smelling sacrifices (Phil. 4:16; Heb 13:16; Heb 13:21).
In other words, our works on a horizontal level also impact our vertical relationship with God. Our creature-to-creature relationships influence our creature-Creator relationship.
6. The danger of lost love
Although the advocates of passive sanctification believe they are exalting and securing God’s love for the believer, there’s a real danger of their views leading to a loss of the sense and experience of God’s love for them. How so? Because, contrary to what they teach, God does respond to our obedience with more manifestations of His love.
Yes, we love Him only because He first loved us (1 John 4:19); and, yes, we love him first then keep His commandments, not vice versa (John 14:15); but yes also, when we do respond to His love with love-fueled obedience, Christ responds to that with loving indwelling, divine communion, and Trinitarian manifestation (John 14:15, 21, 23). What a powerful motivation to active sanctification!
God’s love for the believer never changes, but the believer’s experience of that love can change. God may withdraw the assurance and the daily experience of His Fatherly love because of my disobedience. He loves me no less, but I don’t have his love shed abroad in my heart to the same extent or degree. But He also may pour more of that love into my heart in response to loving service and obedience.
7. The danger of lost chastisement
If there is no link between our works and pleasing God, then there can be no link between our afflictions and displeasing God. Although we certainly want to avoid the error of Job’s friends who said all suffering is a result of personal sin, we must also avoid the idea that it never has anything to do with our conduct and character.
There is a benefit from suffering if we see it as the loving discipline of a loving heavenly Father, all for our good. We cannot make infallible links between sin and suffering but God does sometimes link them and calls us to search for these links too.
Paul expects moral and ethical change to result from our sufferings (Rom. 5:3-5) and the Apostle expects fruit form our suffering (Heb. 12:10-13).
8. The danger of lost spirituality
There’s so much more to Christian experience than the rather one-dimensional presentation of it in passive sanctification. Yes, the Spirit drives us back to Christ’s finished work every day. That’s one element of the Spirit’s work in us – and it is a wonderful experience, no question – but the Psalms, John 14:21 & 23, Revelation 3:20, and many other places, invite us to a far wider, deeper, richer, and more soul-satisfying experience of communion with God through His Spirit. There’s a vast amount of Christian literature, not least among the Puritans, that widens the vista of the life of God in the soul of man way beyond this limited view of the Spirit’s subjective work.
9. The danger of lost unity
This teaching around passive sanctification often divides God’s people, weakening the church. Now if it was truth that was causing the division, we would accept that. However, as I hope has been demonstrated, it is not truth, or at least not a biblically balanced and complete presentation of truth. J. C. Ryle says it best of the passive sanctification teaching of his own day.
I must deprecate, and I do it in love, the use of uncouth and newfangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification. I plead that a movement in favor of holiness cannot be advanced by new-coined phraseology, or by disproportioned and one-sided statements, or by overstraining and isolating particular texts, or by exalting one truth at the expense of another…and squeezing out of them meanings which the Holy Ghost never put in them… The cause of true sanctification is not helped, but hindered, by such weapons as these. A movement in aid of holiness which produces strife and dispute among God’s children is somewhat suspicious.
10. The danger of losing Christ
The Gospel is not justification. But one of the dangers of this imbalanced emphasis on justification is that it seems to put justification in the foreground and Christ in the background. As W. Evans wrote:
The fact of the matter is that the heart of the gospel is not justification. Nor is it sanctification. It is Jesus Christ himself, who is “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” The Apostle Paul came preaching “Christ crucified” and more often than not he directed Christians, not to their own justification, but to the crucified and risen Christ in whom they are both justified and sanctified. The gospel involves freedom from both the penalty and the power of sin, and the latter is not simply to be collapsed into the former. Only when we begin with Christ and our spiritual union with him will we give both justification and sanctification their proper due.