Once you’ve been justified, it is finished. God views you as if you had never sinned. Your justification can never be more perfect. That is God’s declaration. Perfect and complete. You need not question your salvation.
So why bother, with that great assurance, to not simply rest on our laurels? My finite brain is limited but it does seem to me that most of the New Testament would not even have needed to be written if we were called to stop at justification.
Scripture saves us from not knowing. So much of the biblical instruction is beyond justification and straight into the matter of sanctification. Why? Why do we need instruction?
Justification is God declaring that our debt has been forgiven. Let’s say we owe two thousand dollars to the IRS. The IRS calls to say that we have been forgiven the debt and now owe zero dollars. That is something that happened to us. And, that is how God justified us. We have been declared SIN FREE.
Justification is like a crown of jewels placed upon our head. And, once joined to Christ, we are all given the same crown of jewels. Sanctification is the righteousness of Christ imparted to us. That means that it is infused into us. Not as a crown that is placed upon our head but more like an infusion of Vitamin B-12 that is meant to give us a renewed energy. We can choose to sit on the couch in spite of that offering. Or, we can take that new energy from the potent vitamin and use it to grow intellectually and physically.
Likewise, when we are in the process of sanctification, we are given the means to set ourselves apart by God for Christ by the Spirit and prepare for our eternal dwelling. Unlike the B-12 shot, there is no new promise of physical energy but there is a new means for spiritual growth. The process of refining and preparation can be ignored, if you wish. You can sit on the couch, so to speak. But why, then, does the New Testament Word place so much emphasis on further instruction.
In other words, Paul would have no need to urge Christ followers, continuously, in his letters and sermons, to change, as he did, in one example, in Ephesians 4:22-24 – that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. He could have just said, “Good for you. You believe and have faith in the Lord Jesus. You need do nothing more.”
The teaching of the scripture makes our complacency as an option an impossibility. God has put us in Him. This isn’t something that you advance into. The old man has been crucified. Sanctification in the Westminster confession of faith explains that sanctification is the work of God’s 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.
Every Christian believer is justified to exactly the same extent. There are no super justified. We are all equally justified. No distinction. But in sanctification we are not all equal. There are differences here. There are no differences in our standing before God for salvation but the living of the life in Christ varies. Sanctification is your condition.
Don’t QUERY whether or not you are in Christ. If you confuse justification with sanctification, you will end up doubting your salvation. Sanctification doesn’t become ours because of a sudden experience. So, yes…justification happens to us. But, sanctification is our work. And, we should be doing our work in Christ in gratitude and desire. The emphasis on the New Testament teaching is now, in view of the fact that you have been justified…”don’t go on with this life,” and we are instructed in many different ways on how to proceed.
The New Testament teaches growth in the Lord. Sanctification is a process. How anxious we are to take shortcuts. The biblical instruction is that we really are called upon to renew our minds as journeymen here.
There is no condemnation. In Romans 6:6 Paul says, “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”
Yet, we do sin! Not one of us does not sin. But, for Christ followers, our sin does not send us into an eternity apart from God. That’s because we believe in Jesus. Except, it’s grander than that. Satan believes. James 2:19 tells us, “…Even the demons believe – and shudder! It’s more than an acknowledgement of His existence. We actually commit our lives to Him and trust Him with our salvation.
How is this being worked out? We have been united to Christ. We are in Him. In a manner we cannot all together understand with our finite minds. He is the vine. We are the branches. It’s a living unification. We are infused. When you sin you do not cease to be a child of God. Just as when my daughters defy me, they do not become orphans. Their standing is firm.
Paul instructs us to not allow sin to reign. Therefore, it seems as though we must do something here. It is not a matter of allowing the Lord in and then…poof…we need not do anything more. If we understand the doctrine of 6: 1-11, we draw the inevitable deduction that we must ask…what sort of person am I supposed to be in light of this death to sin? Our motives ought to be that we now know God’s purpose for our lives. I know what Jesus has done for me. Why did he do it? So that I may continue in sin? As Paul says, “God forbid.”
And that brings us up close to sanctification. This is something we must do. Justification is a gift but sanctification is not a gift to be received. It is not a sudden deliverance from sin. It is not a one act scene. If we know that sin remains in our mortal body, we’ll always have the struggle against sin. It’s just that now, sin does not control our destiny and knitted right along with that, we should indeed be ripening for heaven.
When Paul talks about justification, he isn’t talking about something that we can work toward. It is something that has already happened to us as followers of Christ. That’s what his teachings urge us to do. He does not tell us that we must consider our sin and how to get rid of it. It is not about our fight against sin. We are to realize constantly that we have been granted the freedom from sin and its jurisdiction. We are called to realize what has been done on our behalf with relationship to sin. It’s about our general position NOW, what is already true of us, those of us who are joined to Jesus.
The Word of God tells us this. This is our way of salvation. And we are called to have faith in this in spite of our question, “How can I be free from sin when we sin?” If we are in Christ, we are already dead to sin and death once and forever. This has nothing to do with our fight with sin.
At last, we recognize that when the Apostle Paul says in Romans 6:18, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness,” he, as a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, was explaining to us that sin no longer controls our destiny. We belong to another realm now.
While we are in our mortal bodies, however, sin will remain. But Paul is urging us to not let that inevitable sin reign. He speaks of the mortal body as separate from us. We have to deal with it as long as we are in the mortal body but we are alive to God now. It does not control our destiny.
Our Lord Himself tries very hard, with repetition, using the example of the fruit tree, to tell us to discern others and examine ourselves by looking at the value of the fruit coming out of our lives. There’s a principle and a truth. You can only trust fruit. You can’t trust appearances. You can’t trust words. That’s what Jesus is saying. He implores us to flourish. And, we know that growing good fruit takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. So we persevere in the process of sanctification.
Like seagulls to a piece of ham, we can end up spending our breathless lives constantly emphasizing our justification. But for me, I believe what I am reading in the Word. We are instructed to go beyond that day of justification. I may not completely understand it but the teaching itself, that it should be a part of our walk, is not ambiguous to me and so I delight in the process of sanctification for the Lord.
I approach my sanctification not with demands upon my behavior. That is, I don’t lament over particular sins and say, “If only I could get rid of this one thing, this one temptation, this one ongoing sin…” Rather, I focus on who and what I am in Christ. From a whole concept of that, I recall, constantly, the instruction, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This leads, albeit at a pace unfolded by God, in a transformation of character.