Sanctification and Holiness: Indicative and Imperative

The indicative and imperative are at the heart of the Christian faith. Understanding these truths, both their content and order, are critical because the gospel and spiritual life are at stake.

John Webster has applied the indicative and imperative to sanctification and holiness. Holiness is both indicative and imperative, and sanctification is both the holiness the gospel declares and commands. The fruit of this in the lives of believers is action. Because this truth is rooted in “double grace,” it is not only a grace that justifies, it is a grace that sanctifies, it is “election to activity.”

Webster writes, Holiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 87:

Evangelical sanctification is not only the holiness the gospel declares but also the holiness that the gospel commands, to which the creaturely counterpart is action. Holiness is indicative; but it is also imperative; indeed, it is imperative because it is the indicative holiness of the triune God whose work of sanctification is directed towards the renewal of the creature’s active life of fellowship with him.

Indicative holiness is no mere inert state in which we find ourselves placed and which requires nothing of us beyond passive acquiescence. Indicative holiness is the revelation of the inescapable conclusion under which our lives have been set—namely, that as those elected, justified, and sanctified by the mercy of God, we are equally those who are determined for the active life of holiness. Because grace is ‘double grace’, it is election to activity.

Double grace is always, of course, wholly grace; the active life of holiness is never apart from faith’s assent to God’s sheer creativity. But in a Christian theology of the holy life, grace is duplex, extending into the generation, evocation and preservation of action. ‘Grace’—which is, of course, nothing other than a shorthand term for the great history of God’s mercy, at whose centre is the passion and resurrection of Christ and his sending of the Spirit—is the gift of life, and life is active holiness in company with the holy God.

A few questions to ponder:

  • When considering justification and sanctification, the declaration and command, how do you understand these truths?
  • How are they different?
  • How are they related?
  • What are the problems when these two doctrines are separated from one another too far?
  • What are the problems when they are treated as synonyms?
  • With what do you agree, and what do you find helpful from Webster’s explanation?
  • Finally, practically and pastorally, why does it appear that holiness is not something addressed or pursued by many Evangelicals?

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