Driven By God

Active Justification and Definitive Santicfication in the Soteriology of Bavinck, Comrie, Witsius, and Kuyper

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Jae-Eun Park
Reformed Historical Theology
  • Bristol, CT: 
    Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH
    , September
     264 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Jae-Eun Park’s Driven by God is a technical study in Reformed theology which argues that “the ideas of definitive sanctification and active justification are biblically supported, theologically clarifying, and of practical help to the believer. They effectively remove any confusion between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, give greater assurance to believers about their perseverance to glory, and offer pastoral relief to those who may have lapsed into either triumphalism or defeatism” (17). Park’s case is persuasively made with her detailed arguments drawn from the theological writings of Herman Bavinck, Alexander Comrie, Herman Witsius, and Abraham Kuyper.

Park rightly states that in classical Reformed theology, justification is the declarative act of forgiveness by God toward sinners in Jesus Christ. Faith is the means by which this justification is received. God’s act of forgiving is “active” and “objective.” The sinner’s reception of justification, by faith, is “passive” in that it takes place inwardly, within the believer.

Also, sanctification is the work of God’s Spirit in the ongoing lives of the justified which is marked by a growth in becoming holy—living in accord with God’s will. “Definitive” sanctification was expressed by Reformed theologians, notably John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary in the United States, to express sanctification as a “once-for-all definitive act” of God whereby the believer who is in union with Christ by faith is fully sanctified by the act of God. Others have taught a “Progressive” sanctification and emphasized the believers’ growth in holiness throughout their lives in Christ. This view criticizes active justification and definitive sanctification as lacking biblical support, presenting theological confusion, and not providing any practical benefits to believers (16).  

Adherents of active justification and definitive sanctification point to New Testament texts such as 1 Cor 1:23; 6:11; Rom 6:1-7:6; 1 Pet 2:24, etc. As Park notes, “advocates of definitive sanctification are not opposed to progressive sanctification, but they also point to Scriptures that support a definitive, objective holiness for believers” (18). For them, “definitive sanctification and active justification are distinct but complementary” (23).

Park’s study argues for the validity of active justification and definitive sanctification with the understanding that “there is a scriptural balance between gracious, divinely sovereign initiative and grateful human response and responsibility” (23). Justification and sanctification are “God-driven but also involve human participation in faith and obedience” (23). The study progresses by considering four parallel characteristics shared by active justification and definitive sanctification. These characteristics are established and illustrated by the author through four theologians from the broader Dutch Reformed tradition who elucidate one of the parallels. These are:

  1. Inseparability: Active justification and definitive sanctification are inseparable from passive justification and progressive sanctification. The theological significance as well as the practical benefit of this inseparability is found in the work of Herman Bavinck (1854-1921).
  2. Decisive and Objective Salvation: Active justification is not the same as eternal justification, a view associated with hyper-Calvinism, which emphasized that before the elect receive faith, their justification is eternal. Most Reformed theologians saw this as leading to antinomianism. The writings of Alexander Comrie (1706-1774) are used to establish the “objective” and “decisive” dimensions of salvation.
  3. Christ-centeredness: Active justification and definitive sanctification each emphasize that the salvation of believers is established and maintained by the believer’s “mystical union” with Jesus Christ and Christ’s meritorious work of satisfaction for human sin by his death on the cross. In this, believers share Christ’s perfect holiness in union with Christ. Herman Witsius’ (1636-1708) writings center on Christ’s saving work.
  4. God’s Sovereignty in Salvation: Active justification and definitive sanctification stress God’s gift of grace is the source of salvation with no room left for any human merit. Salvation is completely “God-driven” and being driven by God means God is in complete control of salvation. The writings of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) stress God’s absolute sovereignty over all aspects of salvation.

Park sees the theological significance of active justification and definitive sanctification as providing a balanced soteriology. God’s “absolute sovereignty is the ‘object’ and human responsibility is the ‘subject’ in both justification and sanctification” (212). This leads, argues  Park, to a “proper balance” since “God’s sovereignty is the ‘cause’ and human responsibility the ‘effect’ in both justification and sanctification” (212). This puts the believer’s salvation on “unshakable objective ground” (212).

The author contends that practically, active justification and definitive salvation provide believers with a sound sense assurance and perseverance in the Christian life. Not only is the objective ground of justification secured in God’s promise and the work of Christ, but also the assurance of this salvation is maintained in real life by the perseverance of the saints since their sanctification is also objectively secured and maintained by the sovereignty of God. So, writes Park, “true believers have met the necessary precondition for the perseverance of the saints; they are therefore inseparable from God’s grace. Thus through their objective dimensions, active justification and definitive sanctification uphold the lifelong assurance of believers in their perseverance to glory” (219).

A clear recognition of these practical dimensions prevents believers from a “triumphalism” or spiritual arrogance when believers forget “what people who have truly received that free grace must do.” Active justification and definitive sanctification stand over-against an antinomianism which advocates that there is no need for the law of God in the Christian’s life. The practical dimensions of these views of justification and sanctification also  stand against “defeatism” stemming from “an overdeveloped sense of guilt and compunction that forgets the believer’s once-for-all justified identity” This is the identity of the believer’s union with Jesus Christ which “proclaims the certainty of the divine promise, i.e., the identity (holiness) and legal status (righteousness) of the true believer” (219).

In both these cases of triumphalism and defeatism, “the concepts of active/passive justification and definitive/progressive sanctification can be a steadying influence keeping them [believers] from falling into these debilitating spiritual states, reminding them of who they really are and what they can and should do in faith” (220).

Park’s thorough and detailed study of important dimensions of the basic theological concepts of justification and sanctification provides in depth discussions of intricate theological matters. These are bolstered in writings of key theologians and enriched by over thirty pages of  bibliography. Park concludes by affirming that “the concepts of active justification and definitive sanctification are biblically warranted, theologically meaningful, and practically relevant, resonating with the indisputable truth that ours is a truly God-driven salvation. Soli Deo gloria!” (223).           

About the Reviewer(s): 

Donald K. McKim is an Independent Scholar based in Germantown, Tennessee.

Date of Review: 
May 22, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jae-Eun Park is Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Chongshin University.



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