In his popular book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, Tullian Tchividjian gives many great explanations of what God’s grace means for sinners like us. This book constantly focuses the reader on Jesus’ saving work. There are quite a few helpful and encouraging words in this book. But it’s not on my recommended reading list. Why? Because I don’t think Tchividjian’s description of sanctification is clearly confessional and biblical. Don’t overreact here; I’m not saying the book is heretical, horrible, or an attack on the gospel. I’m simply saying the description of sanctification is unhelpful. For example, here are some quotes from pages 95-96:
“Sanctification is the daily hard work of getting back to the reality of our justification. It’s going back to the certainty of our objectively secured pardon in Christ and hitting the refresh button a thousand times a day.”
“The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of ourselves and our performance and more of Jesus and his performance for us.”
“Think of what Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12: ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’ We’ve got work to do…What precisely is Paul exhorting us to do? He goes on to explain: ‘For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (v. 13). God works his work in you, which is the work already accomplished by Christ. Our hard work, therefore, means coming to a greater understanding of his work.”
The Reformed confessions and catechisms talk about sanctification quite a bit. But they don’t talk about sanctification as “getting back to the reality of our justification,” or, “coming to a greater understanding of [Christ’s] work.” These statements probably fit better in the discussion of true faith (i.e. WLC Q/A 72, HC Q/A 60-61), but they are not Reformed ways to speak about sanctification.
How do the confessions and catechisms talk about sanctification? Well, first of all sanctification is about the Christian obeying God’s law out of gratitude for salvation and new life in Christ (HC Q/A 32-115). Second, sanctification has to do with dying to sin and living according to righteousness (WLC Q/A 75, HC Q/A 88-90). Also, the confessions mention in the discussions of sanctification our good works as “fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith” (WCF 16.2). We can gain assurance of our faith from the fruits of our faith. The confessions and catechisms say more about sanctification; this is just a summary (for biblical references, see the proof texts of the confessions given). But certainly sanctification is not “getting back to the reality of our justification.”
I don’t want to throw Tchividjian under the bus here. I haven’t read anything else he’s written and I don’t follow his ministry at all. Maybe he’s clarified this elsewhere. I just wanted to point this out, echoing what Mark Jones said in Antinomianism (p. 111-121), that we should be careful when speaking about biblical truths and doctrines. Rhetoric and hyperbole might sound good and grab attention, but we need to work hard to be precise and accurate in our language. I believe the Reformed confessions and catechisms do a nice job of biblically describing justification, faith, and sanctification, even if the statements in them are not popular, trendy, or twitterable. If we want to be biblical and confessional, I’d say let’s do our best to use biblical and confessional language.
“What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace (Ezek. 36:27, Phil. 2:13, 2 Thes. 2:13), whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God (2 Cor. 5:17, Eph. 4:23-24, 1 Thess. 5:23), and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness (Ezek. 36:25-27, Rom. 6:4, 6, 12-14, 2 Cor. 7:1, 1 Pet. 2:24) (WSC Q/A 35).”