How Does UBF Teach Sanctification?

Php2.12-13Does UBF teach an effort driven sanctification? Do correct me on this, but based on what I have heard for over three decades, UBF teaches this: “While acknowledging and not denying that sanctification is God’s work in us, the emphasis, thrust and teaching is on what the Christian must do in order to be sanctified.” I feel as though UBF teaches an effort-driven sanctification, without denying that sanctification is grace-driven.

UBF is not incorrect. UBF is correct in acknowledging that sanctification is God’s work (Phil 2:13). UBF is also correct in teaching that a Christian must work out their sanctification (Phil 2:12b). The problem that I take issue with is that the emphasis and take home message is the latter, while the former is either assumed or glossed over and not clearly explained or emphasized.

Why does UBF (over)emphasize man’s work in sanctification? Perhaps, I understand why UBF does this. The thinking may be that if UBF emphasizes that sanctification is God’s work, then UBF people will become “do nothing” Christians. UBF fears that UBF Christians will not do anything until God does something. That is a legitimate concern. Sadly, churches may be filled with such Christians who are just warming the pews waiting for God to work. This is hypercalvinism. The book of James addresses Christians who have become complacent and are “not doing anything” because they believe that their faith has already saved them.

The sad results of teaching a man/effort driven sanctification. There is a down side to emphasizing sanctification as being what a Christian must do. It produces subtly smug Christians who base their self worth on their effort, hard work, good intentions and sacrifice for the church. It produces Pharisees. It produces “older brothers” who think they deserve or have earned their father’s goat or calf (Lk 15:29). It produces a deadly legalism that kills the life of the entire church. Paul wrote Romans (his magnum opus) and Galatians (his first of 13 epistles) to combat this prevalent wrong teaching that grace alone is not enough.

What can UBF do? Here is a feeble attempt to put God as being the primary force in sanctification. Let me also answer with an excellent quote from the renowned theologian Louis Berkhof (1873-1957) who says that sanctification is God’s work and not man’s work, even though man works in grace following God’s work in the Christian:

“Sanctification is a work of the triune God, but is ascribed more particularly to the Holy Spirit in Scripture (Rom 8:11, 15:16; 1 Pet 1:2). It is particularly important in our day, with its emphasis on the necessity of approaching the study of theology anthropologically and its one-sided call to service in the kingdom of God, to stress the fact that God, and not man, is the author of sanctification. Especially in view of the Activism that is such a characteristic feature of American religious life, and which glorifies the work of man rather than the grace of God, it is necessary to stress the fact over and over again that sanctification is the fruit of justification, that the former is simply impossible without the latter, and that both are the fruits of the grace of God in the redemption of sinners. Though man is privileged to cooperate with the Spirit of God, he can do this only in virtue of the strength which the Spirit imparts to him from day to day. The spiritual development of man is not a human achievement, but a work of divine grace. Man deserves no credit whatsoever for that which he contributes to it instrumentally.”

Am I describing fairly how UBF has taught sanctification?


  1. Ben, I would say you basically give a fair assessment of this topic. In my experience though, ubf directors don’t care about teaching. I was told “just believe whatever people around you believe, and be all things to all people, as long as they come to obedience.” ubf directors are more concerned with removing any negative comment about ubf than with trying to understand orthodoxy.

    [If anyone wants to know what a ubf director means by “balanced viewpoint”, it means blank out all negative comments, as was done yesterday on Wikipedia.]

  2. UBF’s “effort” is focused on every day “meetings”. Among the meetings there are daily bread and sogam and fishing meetings. Every day a director says that “you must teach the Bible 1:1 at least … times”. Step by step every ubfer starts feeling guilt if he doesn’t do any of these “requirements for christians”. Step by step he/she is not sure in his/her salvation. If he/she comes back to the gospel of Jesus he/she feels some graceful relief but then every day ubf life brings him/her to the guilt again. After leaving ubf I had to “preach hard” especially to young ubfers (who suffered so much because of guilt feelings) on the salvation by God’s grace only and through God’s work, and that no “meeting” or ubf activity is necessary for having peace with God. Recently I spoke to a man whom I took into my car from a highway and told him about Jesus. After the talk the first thought in my mind was a ubf thought, “I may add 1 point to my week report for I taught the Bible personally”. Only after the first thought the second one came “I live before Jesus and not before ubf any more and I speak about Jesus not to escape guilt and daily rebukes, not to make a report but because I love Jesus who saved me and I want to see brothers and sisters to be saved”. I am also happy to see former ubfers living with Jesus and in his kingdom without any reports. I like Brian’s Challenge for ubfers very much for this Challenge is about whether a ubfer is able to see God’s grace in Jesus and trust Jesus (not ubf activities) for one month. If a ubfer can’t stop any of the daily ubf activities it means that he/she is a slave of guilt and self-righteousness and HUGE FEAR and this pharaoh doesn’t let him/her go. And one more thing. In ubf if you “saved” a sheep then you may be very proud your whole life and stop working (only if you are in a position of a director).

  3. Some addition. Actually I haven’t seen any ubf director “saving” a single sheep. But a director can be proud his whole life and not to do anything but rebuking if any sheep is “saved” in his chapter.

  4. In Canada UBF a few years ago, the majority of the directors plus spouses and several other leaders gathered for a weekend seminar on systematic theology. The textbook was Louis Berkhoff’s “Systematic Theology.” I felt that there was a genuine effort by all to understand salvation in all its richness, and correct any misunderstandings or misapplications we may have. The seminar was led by a seminary professor from Korea who is a staff member in Korea UBF, although I’ve sadly forgotten his name. I feel that the attendees agreed that the right balance in emphasizing God’s work and while not diminishing the role of the believer in sanctification is important but difficult. I was encouraged by the seminar.

    Interestingly, just tonight I was discussing this topic with a friend, and he taught me an interesting mnemonic: Justification begins with a J because Jesus accomplished it on the cross. Sanctification begins with an S because the Spirit accomplishes it throughout our lifetime. Glorification begins with a G because God accomplishes it after we die and go to glory.

    • Love the JSG mnemonic. Thanks, Joshua! Perhaps the seminary professor in Korea believes in synergism (Armenian) rather than monergism (Calvinist)? :-)

    • Yes, I LOVE the JSG teaching! Thanks for sharing this Joshua.

    • I obviously cannot speak for the individual leading the seminar, but my feeling was that he presented a quite balanced description of the different points of view. If I were to guess at his position, I’d say more along the Calvinism lines, which aligns with the Reformed leanings of UBF, or at least its Presbyterian roots.

  5. Thanks for sharing Vitaly. After starting West Loop in Jan 2008 my feeling every Sun was that if the Sun attendants was up I felt good, and if it was down I felt bad. It took me several months of intentional adjustment to come out of this stupidity in order to find love, joy, peace and the grace of Jesus, regardless of the number. Then when I have the peace of God, everyone else is also more peaceful. Thank God.

  6. Hey Brian, how the heck do you find out such stuff as with Wikepedia? :-) I am impressed. We need someone like you to keep us honest! Did someone at Wikepedia reverse the changes that were attempted?

    • It’s actually quite easy, since you can sign up for email alerts to changes to an article. Yes, there was a Wiki Admin who reverted the edits right away, due to violating the Wiki rules.

      How do I know about all this? Well because I was “Baghdad Brian” sometime around 2005 and worked with ubf leaders to remove the Wikipedia article and make it more “prayerful and balanced”. I failed in those attempts, and that failure taught me important lessons :)

  7. I believe it was St. Augustine who said, “Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you.” I think that UBFer may be drawn to this quote because of the rigour and high level of activity in the ministry. But could it be that some of the things that Ben mentions in his posting—vis-a-vis a works-heavy view of sanctification—may occur from applying such a quote to salvation?

  8. Love the St. Augustine quote. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    I just remember that last year I had written a similar/related post that quoted Berkhof:

    Tim Keller (who quotes Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards and Richard Lovelace) says often that every man’s sinful default is to be his own savior and lord. If I may be blunt UBF’s savior and lord is UBF’s mission and methodology of 1:1, testimony writing, world campus mission, etc. Obviously, these are not bad things at all. Yet when these good things become our functional saviors (idols), the idolator feels threatened when they are touched or threatened. Why are some UBF leaders so afraid of losing testimony writing or 1:1 Bible study (instead of other ways of communicating the Bible) as though it is UBF’s savior?? Such functional savior(s) might be equated with our work righteousness. Sorry if this sounds totally confusing.

  9. I think that the methods are quite good, the content of them is not. Ubf’s Bible study is not just Bible study. It is Obedience study and Korean culture study and the idolators feel threatened because they are Koreans. Many wrote here on the hierarchy issue. Chris wrote that many Koreans have left ubf since 1976 so the main ubf problem is not in the Korean culture. But I think that the Korean culture IS a big problem as well. It is not right to have a dominant culture in an intercultural organization. And may be even some Koreans don’t like the Korean culture, not only ubf culture. I heard that a 2gen from our chapter went to Korea for practice in her major. She said that it was very difficult for her to study in Korea. Why? Because when a professsor is teaching and showing something all the students must stand, on the feet, sitting is not allowed. Would you like to study many hours on your feet?! I remember how my director told me that I didn’t know what obedience is. He said that in Korea when the chief director of the Hyunday Company is kicking and beating a lower director, it is normal, and all the present will be silent and approve. Dr.Ben, you wrote that Lee influenced ubf and ubf sent 1500 missionaries. I would add that ubf sent 1500 Korean missionaries. Ubf has been a strange (even for Koreans) Korean organization, that’s why its world mission is a failure. Ubf’s world mission is just that: having sent 1500 Korean missionaries. Is it a success? Is it the result? Is it the end? Korea is not the world. Ubf’s mission is not the world mission. If even Koreans don’t like ubf then what about natives? I know some Russians who are still in ubf. They are not normal, they are crazy (and so was I), and their directors will demand them to be and stay crazy before Russian standards. (btw many of them have a Korean spouse…”To whom shall we go? we have Korean ubf families”) Otherwise the directors will feel threatened.