Sanctification: “I’m justified, so why sanctified?”
The Bible teaches that the believer in Jesus Christ is completely justified before God. We have peace with God (Romans 5:1) and have no condemnation (Romans 8:1). I have everything I need to stand before a holy God as “not guilty” as the God declares the verdict “righteous” over me. I have Christ’s righteousness. As we sing in the hymn, He shows his wounded hands and names me as His own.
So if I have all that, why should I be concerned with sanctification? Does it even matter? There is a species of wrong teaching out there that says if you believe Jesus is your Savior, you are so completely saved that even if you live your entire life without obeying any of Jesus’ commands, but you are still truly saved. Sanctification is like a bonus. Doesn’t really matter but it can be a nice extra.
To counter this, let’s point to some Biblical reason why sanctification is not only important but a necessary part of my salvation.
First, because of I have all that I need in Jesus Christ, I have in Christ both justification and sanctification. 1Cor. 1:30 says “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” He who justified us also sanctifies us. We are positionally holy. There is a washing and cleansing of making us set apart for the Lord that comes with our salvation:
“1Cor. 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
So we find then that first reason you should be concerned about sanctification is because that is who you are. That is the work that God began in us. He washed us and made us holy. Certainly, we have the presence of sin remaining, but our position before God is that of ‘sanctified.’
Second, if Christ began a work in you, He is going to carry it forward to completion. God has made you a new creation. He has put a seed in you (1 Peter 1:22-25). The seed planted in you will sprout and grow. The Word of God bears fruit in the believer’s life. I should be concerned about sanctification because it provides evidence and testimony of God’s work in me.
Third, without holiness I will not see the Lord “Heb. 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Here the focus is on the believer striving for holiness. Salvation is something that is worked at… or we work it out (Phil. 2:12-13). Of course, we do not mean that we earn salvation or that our good works contribute to God’s giving of salvation. It rather is to say that those whom God justifies He will also sanctify. In this respect, good works in sanctification are the consequent necessity of justification. To channel our inner John Calvin, when God gives us Christ, He gives us the whole Christ. Christ’s righteousness is over us in justification and Christ is formed in us in sanctification. Without Christ you will not see God but claiming a Christ who has produced no holiness in us calls into question our profession of faith.
Fourth, sanctification matters because we aren’t to presume upon God’s grace. Romans 6:1 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” We are not to run around and say “I am justified, it really doesn’t matter how I live.” Years ago a heard a little rhyme that illustrates wrong attitude in Romans 6:1.
“Free from the Law, O blessed condition,
We can sin as we want and still have remission”
To be clear, the rhyme was told to me as a statement of what not to believe and how not to act. Your sanctification matters because you have died with Christ and made alive with Him. When we are unconcerned with sanctification and walking the ways of God, we are saying in effect “the death and resurrection of Christ doesn’t matter; it has no power in me and no effect upon me.”
Finally, sanctification is that path that God calls you to walk. If you’re like me, you grew up having Romans 6:23 memorized. But we seldom pay attention to Romans 6:22 that goes with 6:23.
Rom. 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
Rom. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The “for” is drawing on what Paul has said in verse 22. In our redemption, we are set free from sin. It results in a change of status before God. We move from death to life. We die with Christ, our old sinful self is crucified, and we are made alive in new life as a new creation. You move from being a slave to sin to being a slave to God. The resulting fruit of this change of position is our sanctification. Fruit comes because God has worked. The end result of your living and walking the Christian life is eternal life. Paul is looking to what lies ahead.
The normal Christian life is, to borrow from John Bunyan, a pilgrim’s progress to a heavenly city. We are never perfect, we may backslide, we will suffer, we may find ourselves in sloughs of despond or lured for a season by the temptation of vanity fair… but because God has given you Christ, you will bear fruit. Christ is in you and you are in Christ. Those grafted onto the vine will without fail bear fruit over the course of their Christian life. And then, if the Lord doesn’t return first, you cross the river and enter into the heavenly city, eternal life. That life is a gift freely given. But those who have the gift have been so radically transformed that new life will burst forth producing sanctification. In this way, sanctification is the pathway to eternal life.
The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Those in Christ will over time grow to look more and more like Christ. If I am justified, I will be sanctified, and I will be gloried. That process of sanctification and glorification begins the moment I profess faith in Christ and it continues a trajectory forward until God completes it.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.