Sanctification Is A Work Of God’s Grace: Resources On Sanctification

It is  held by some who think of themselves as evangelical and Reformed that justification is by grace alone (sola gratia) but sanctification is by grace and works, i.e., that it is synergistic. To my great shame, I remember once answering a student’s question by affirming this error. I did so because I feared that denying sanctification by grace and works was antinomian. Nevertheless, it is not true. The Reformed confession is that sanctification, just like justification, is by grace alone. On this we should all agree with the Westminster Assembly, whom no one could ever consider antinomian.

Q. 35. What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness (Shorter Catechism).

Q. 75. What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life (Larger Catechism).

…the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. Westminster Confession of Faith 14.2

The Reformed confession of God’s word is that good works are the fruit and evidence of our justification and sanctification. They are necessary as fruit and evidence of justification and sanctification (salvation) but they are not themselves the ground or instrument of justification, sanctification, or salvation. Here are some resources on sanctification by grace alone:


  1. Marshall, Walter. The Gospel-Mystery of Sanctification. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1954.
  2. Fisher, Edward, and Thomas Boston. The Marrow of Modern Divinity. Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2009.
  3. Allen, Michael, and Scott R Swain, eds. Sanctification. New Studies in Dogmatics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2017.
  4. Berkouwer, G. C. Faith and Sanctification. His Studies in Dogmatics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1952.
  5. Fesko, J. V. A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Growing in Holiness: Understanding Sanctification. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publication, 2012.
  6. Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge. Perfectionism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1931.


  1. The Logic Of Fruit As Evidence
  2. Does Scripture Teach Sanctification Through Works?
  3. Why Christians Do Good Works
  4. William Perkins On Faith And Sanctification
  5. William Perkins: Grace Does Not Need Your Help
  6. Salvation Through Good Works?
  7. Heaven Through Faith Alone
  8. Salvation, Good Works, And Conditions
  9. The Holy Spirit And Sanctification
  10. How To Think And Speak About Conditions In The Covenant Of Grace (or How Not To Turn The Covenant Of Grace Into A Covenant Of Works
  11. Romans 6:14, 7:14, And 8:14 Are All True Of The Christian At The Same Time: Simul Iustus, Et Peccator
  12. Resources On Keeping Justification And Sanctification Together Without Confusing Them
  13. Resources On the Doctrine of Sanctification And The Third Use Of The Law
  14. How Should We View the Warning Passages? (1)
  15. How Should We View the Warning Passages? (2)
  16. How Should We View the Warning Passages? (3)
  17. How Should We View the Warning Passages? (4)
  18. Conditions in the Covenant of Grace (pt 1)
  19. Conditions in the Covenant of Grace (pt 2)
  20. Legal and Gospel Mortification
  21. Brothers We Are Not Perfectionists (1)
  22. Brothers We Are Not Perfectionists (2)
  23. Brothers We Are Not Perfectionists (3)
  24. Why Is Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude Insufficient?
  25. Legalism and Antinomianism
  26. Warning, Reasons, and Motivations for Holiness
  27. Posts on The Sabbath
  28. The Law and the Sabbath
  29. Posts on the Regulative Principle of Worship
  30. The Three Uses of the Law
  31. Law, Gospel, and the Three Uses of the Law (1)
  32. Law, Gospel, and the Three Uses of the Law (2)
  33. Berkhof on the Third Use of the Law
  34. Are God’s Demands Always Gracious?
  35. Is the Gospel Preached or Lived?
  36. Posts on the Law/Gospel Distinction
  37. Who Says The Gospel Is No Motive To Holiness?
  38. The Attraction Of Legal Preaching
  39. The Grace of Law?
  40. Why the Reformation Cannot Be Avoided
  41. Is Faith A Work?
  42. Sola Fides is Not Sola Fide
  43. Resources On Keeping Justification And Sanctification Together Without Confusing Them

Podcasts and Other Audio

  1. High Noon: The Regulative Principle Rides Again
  2. Podcast series: New Life In The Shadow Of Death: Sanctification
  3. Podcast series: Heidelcast Series: Nomism And Antinomianism

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  1. Here’s a quote from RC Sproul’s Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Is this what you are talking about? I’m confused:

    “The Christian life requires hard work. Our sanctification is a process wherein we are coworkers with God. We have the promise of God’s assistance in our labor, but his divine help does not annul our responsibility to work.

    “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

    This work is not something that earns merit or gains us our justification. It is the labor that follows justification, the outworking of faith. Lazy Christians will remain immature because they fail to apply themselves to a diligent study of God’s Word.

    This reminds me of another quote from Charles Spurgeon, “Grace is the mother and nurse of holiness, and not the apologist of sin.”

    • Roger,

      I have great affection for R. C. The value of his work on behalf of the Reformed faith cannot be calculated. This is the sort of language to which I was referring. Would it not be better to use the language of the standards? This is really a matter of definition. Sanctification is a work of God’s grace. This is our agreed, ecclesiastically sanctioned language.

      As a consequence of of that sanctifying grace Christians must struggle against sin. Anyone who denies the necessity of the struggle, denies an essential aspect of Reformed theology. We are working our our salvation with fear and trembling. We are not earning our salvation, however. Our salvation has been earned for us by Christ and has been given freely to us. One who is united to Christ by the Spirit, who has been redeemed from wrath cannot but (Belgic art. 24) seek to put to death the old man and be made alive in the new (Heidelberg Catechism 88-90).

      Check out the resources where these topics are discussed at length.

      This is the s

  2. R. Scott Clark,

    Here’s a quote from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology:

    “Human beings ultimately cannot sanctify themselves. The Triune God sanctifies. The Father sanctifies ( 1 Cor 1:30 ) by the Spirit ( 2 Thess 2:13 ; 1 Peter 1:2 ) and in the name of Christ ( 1 Cor 6:11 ). Yet Christian faith is not merely passive. Paul calls for active trust and obedience when he says, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” ( 2 Cor 7:1 ). No one may presume on God’s grace in sanctification. Peter reminds believers to be diligent in making their calling and election sure ( 2 Peter 1:10 ).”

    Is this not both evangelical and Reformed? And would it not be better to use the language of the Bible (as set forth here), especially in light of today’s hyper-grace/low self-esteem movement? You sound like someone who has caved to this teaching.

    • I find it perplexing that this quote refers to 2 Cor. 7:1 in which Paul explicitly says that we have the promises of God (which in chapter one he assures are all YES in Christ) and then in the very next sentence contradicts this by stating that “No one may presume on God’s grace in sanctification.” It is not presumption to confidently claim that all of God’s promises to us in Christ are not both “yes” and “no” but only “yes”, and that it is only out of this rock-solid assurance that we pursue holiness. If I cannot in some sense “presume” on God’s grace insofar as I am convinced that in Christ he has promised it to me irrevocably (because God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable, Rom. 11:29), then the logic of Paul’s exhortation is undermined. And so no, this quote is not ‘evangelical’ because it is not in line with good news. See a related post:

    • Roger,

      Like others, you have reacted before reading or listening. No reasonable person thinks that the Westminster Divines were antinomian or weak on sanctification.

      I have provided you with hours of audio and many articles explaining sanctification. This is a resource post.

      Sanctification is a work of God’s grace. We struggle against sin, by his grace, his Spirit helping us, in union with Christ as a consequence of sanctification. By definition grace is monergistic. By definition “synergism” means “working with.”

      I recommend highly Walter Marshall’s Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. There is an Office Hours episode linked above on this very volume. Take a listen.

    • Roger,

      The question is not whether we struggle against sin. The question how to speak about that struggle and how to preserve the biblical doctrine of grace. After all, Paul says: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Rom 11:6). This definition applies to sanctification as much as to justification.

  3. Jonathan Kleis,

    The promises in view here are conditional. If you read 2 Cor. 6:17 you see the context:

    “17 Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.”
    18 “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.”

    • Roger,

      I am well aware of the context. That is why I cited to you the way in which Paul begins the letter about all of God’s promises being yes to us in Christ. That is unconditional.

      Strangely you only quoted the second part of the catena of OT quotes from which Paul draws. If you read just one verse prior you see that God promises: “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” What you quoted in verse 17 begins with the conjunction “therefore” which means that the command to “Come out from among them” assumes the validity of the promise in verse 16 and calls for obedience on the assurance that the promise already holds true. This is the same kind of logic we see Paul employ in 2 Cor. 7:1. I would also direct you to the overall context of Isaiah that is informing much of what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians (much scholarly literature on this) where it is clear that God acts through his Servant (ch.40-55) to save his people in spite of their covenantal failures. Israel/Judah in the context of Isaiah most definitely did not uphold their side of the ‘conditions’, yet God promises to save them anyway. This is why the faithfulness of the Servant/Christ in Isaiah 53 is vicarious: he takes on himself their guilt and fulfills all the conditions on their behalf.

      The reason what you are saying is not evangelical is because at the end of the day it throws people back on themselves to determine whether or not the promise is valid for them. It takes the full and complete focus off of Jesus alone (solus Christus is one of the five solas, remember), and places part of the burden on our shoulders. This is at complete odds not only with what Scripture teaches but also with what Calvin taught (read for example Anthony Lane’s brilliant essay on Calvin and assurance in the book “Tributes to John Calvin” where he clearly shows that Calvin did not view faith as a ‘condition’ in the sense that I presume you view it as). I would say that it is neither evangelical nor Reformed.

  4. Jonathan Kleis,

    “The reason what you are saying is not evangelical is because at the end of the day it throws people back on themselves to determine whether or not the promise is valid for them. It takes the full and complete focus off of Jesus alone (solus Christus is one of the five solas, remember), and places part of the burden on our shoulders.”

    Part of the burden is supposed to be on our shoulders. If not, then how would you know you needed to look to Christ for anything.

    How were you saved? Did you not examine “yourself” and find that you did not meet the biblical requirements to stand in the presence of God? Isn’t this why you now look to Christ?

    Doesn’t this same scenario continue for the rest of your life throughout sanctification? How could it not? Do you not continue to look to Christ because you “see yourself” failing. Isn’t this also how you know whether you have disqualified yourself (This sure wasn’t above the apostle Paul), or even that you need to use the means of grace made available.

    Bottom line: If there is to be no self-examination whatsoever, and we are never to “determine whether” the promises are for us, then for what possible reason would anyone have to look to Christ now or at any time after conversion? How would we even know we were Christians. This is why the Bible is so replete with admonitions for self-examination.

    I don’t have time to rehearse them all right now but you could start with the apostle Paul’s requirement of “examining ourselves” to make sure that we are not partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. There are many more like this, and it is only common sense that we would need to do so. We do not “look to Jesus” in a vacuum.

    I realize that it is God who enables us to do all of these things, and that faith is not a hoop to be jumped through, but this is not the same as saying that we play no role and that we are not to examine ourselves at all times.

    As far as being evangelical and Reformed, I don’t know of anyone who has ever taught that our good works are meritorious. This seems to be nothing more than a way of trying to muddy the waters with straw men. You should be aware that you are slandering people when you do this.

    Have you ever considered that the bad feelings you get from self-examination (that you and so many others are trying so desperately to escape from) could actually be a gift from God? Guilt can be a strong motivator. It is also the biblical basis for our salvation. Something to think about . . .

    • Roger,

      I find it interesting that in your long response you actually didn’t deal with the points that I raised regarding the actual text of Scripture. I do not deny that Scripture contains exhortations to self-examination, but I do not read them through the interpretive lens of post-Reformed orthodoxy that you apparently do (i.e. the practical syllogism, experiential predestinarianism, etc.), because I reject the Aristotelian/Thomist framework within which much of that tradition works (this is well-known, check out for example Richard Muller). Many of the hermeneutical presuppositions that you seem to be bringing to your reading of Scripture, I surmise, would be rooted in a view of God that sees him primarily as a Law-giver that must be appeased rather than a loving Father who in love pursued us to the point of giving his beloved Son over to death for us. Your approach to Scripture seems to presuppose a God who relates to us primarily in terms of law and justice rather than love and grace. I reject this view, for as Paul says in Romans 5:8, God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were sinners (not righteous!), Christ died for us! This is a view which relating to us primarily in terms of law and justice rather than love and grace. I would recommend Ron Frost’s book “Richard Sibbes: God’s Spreading Goodness” in which he contrasts these diverging views of God within English Puritanism. Your view is by no means the only historically Reformed view. Blessings!

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