Saturday, October 2, 2010

Calvin's Duplex Gratia Deus: No Justification Without Holiness

"But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30; NASB).
According to Lane Tipton, this is Calvin's favorite verse regarding the issue of union with Christ. I decided, based on this comment, to take a look at Calvin's actual commentary on the verse, and I did not come away disappointed. In these verses, Calvin sees with clarity the functions which Christ fulfills when we stand in union with him. Calvin sees here a duplex gratia Deus (a twofold blessing of God) which one receives when brought into union with Him. By being placed into Christ by God's doing, Paul says, Christ becomes to us wisdom, expressed through his becoming to us justification and sanctification. Regarding Paul's statement that by union with Christ, he becomes to us righteousness:
[H]e says that he is made unto us righteousness, by which he means that we are on his account acceptable to God, inasmuch as he expiated our sins by his death, and his obedience is imputed to us for righteousness. For as the righteousness of faith consists in remission of sins and a gracious acceptance, we obtain both through Christ.
Calvin then comments on his statement that through union, Christ becomes for us sanctification:
he calls him our sanctification, by which he means, that we who are otherwise unholy by nature, are by his Spirit renewed unto holiness, that we may serve God. From this, also, we infer, that we cannot be justified freely through faith alone without at the same time living holily. For these fruits of grace are connected together, as it were, by an indissoluble tie, so that he who attempts to sever them does in a manner tear Christ in pieces. Let therefore the man who seeks to be justified through Christ, by God's unmerited goodness, consider that this cannot be attained without his taking him at the same time for sanctification, or, in other words, being renewed to innocence and purity of life.
We then see that Calvin most clearly believes this to be a 'checkmate' against the charge of Rome that our understanding of justification is a "legal fiction" as well as the charge of anti-nomianism.
Those, however, that slander us, as if by preaching a free justification through faith we called men off from good works, are amply refuted from this passage, which intimates that faith apprehends in Christ regeneration equally with forgiveness of sins.
Lest any accuse Calvin of bringing together justification and sanctification:
Observe, on the other hand, that these two offices of Christ are conjoined in such a manner as to be, notwithstanding, distinguished from each other.
So for Calvin, there is no separating justification and sanctification, but there is also no confusing the two, either. They are distinct works, and they always will be.

Finally, we see that we don't need to take Lane Tipton's word for it that this is Calvin's favorite verse regarding this subject, because he tells us himself:
In fine, of all the blessings that are here enumerated we must seek in Christ not the half, or merely a part, but the entire completion. For Paul does not say that he has been given to us by way of filling up, or eking out righteousness, holiness, wisdom, and redemption, but assigns to him exclusively the entire accomplishment of the whole. Now as you will scarcely meet with another passage of Scripture that more distinctly marks out all the offices of Christ, you may also understand from it very clearly the nature and efficacy of faith. For as Christ is the proper object of faith, every one that knows what are the benefits that Christ confers upon us is at the same time taught to understand what faith is.
For myself, as I have spent the last several days studying the doctrine of union with Christ as expounded by Calvin, I can't help but sense my focus shift from the doctrine of justification to the person of Jesus Christ himself in a greater degree. Whereas before, I held a more Lutheran understanding of justification, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that if, in fact, justification is the entire story, then our focus becomes the doctrine which gives root to all the benefits of salvation. In the Reformed understanding as I see now that Calvin taught it, our focus is on a person, and all the gifts that we enjoy result from our union by faith in Him. In that respect, I see tremendous pastoral benefits related to better understanding the nature of the Christian's union with Christ.


  1. Just make sure you're reading all of the very intense debate between wts and wscal about union, in addition to reading your gaffin tribute

  2. A friend recently asked me for some summary resources on this issue and figured I may as well post them here too:

  3. Those resources are phony and counterfit. you obviously dont understand Christ, you are using the evil internet to talk about something so sacred. you should be ashamed of your worthless foolishness. you smelly drippy poop!

    MiXoN B.

  4. I have no plans to delete MiXoN's comment in the immediate future. I want future generations to know just how awesome of a slam we human beings were capable of rendering towards one another.


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