Does Hebrews 12:4 Teach Sanctification Through Works?

The argument is being made that Hebrews 12:4 teaches us that sanctification is resisting sin, which involves our free cooperation with grace, ergo sanctification is not by faith alone (sola fide).

It seems evident from Hebrews 12 that our obedience is the logically and morally necessary product of our faith, our union with Christ, and that gracious sanctification. Certainly we do struggle against sin. Certainly we do freely exert ourselves against sin and toward godliness but we do so as those who are being graciously sanctified and we lay hold of all the graces that accompany salvation through faith alone. The power of faith is its object. The object of faith is Christ.

 

A correspondent writes to ask about the interpretation of Hebrews 12:4 which says, ” In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (ESV), relative to the current discussion concerning salvation, sanctification, and conditions in the covenant of grace. We are really discussing the middle premise of what is apparently a widely accepted syllogism:

  1. Salvation is composed of justification and sanctification
  2. Sanctification is by grace through faith and works
  3. Therefore salvation is by grace through faith and works (faithfulness)

I doubt the middle premise and I reject the conclusion.

The argument is being made that Hebrews 12:4 teaches us that sanctification is resisting sin, which involves our free cooperation with grace, ergo sanctification is not by faith alone (sola fide). Once more, there is no question whether believers must be sanctified and whether they must resist sin. The question is whether our sanctification and our resisting sin is a part of the instrument of our salvation or whether it contributes to our salvation or whether our resisting of sin is the consequence and evidence of our gracious salvation.

Let us define our terms. First, we are talking about believers, those who have been regenerated by the free, sovereign favor of God, who, through faith have united to Christ. Salvation does certainly include our justification, sanctification, and glorification. By justification I mean God’s declaration of sinners that they are regarded as righteous on the basis of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness alone and received through faith alone. I take it that, in the present discussion, this definition is not in doubt.

What is sanctification? The Westminster Divines, speaking for the entire Reformed world answered this exact question in the Shorter Catechism this way: “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.” This is identical to the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism 88–90. We will return to this question shortly.

The third aspect of salvation is glorification which, it seems, is often neglected in this conversation. It is hard to imagine that someone would posit that our glorification isthrough our obedience.

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