Which is better: Justification or Sanctification?


Why do we love justification and sanctification? And do we love one more than the other?

If you've ever been in a position where you think you might die, your theology really begins to matter, and you learn a great deal about yourself and what you believe.  

A legalistic type of Christian probably needs to be confronted with the reality that he or she will die. When that reality hits, Christ's righteousness and God's mercy are no longer just doctrines to live by, but truths to die by. That is why justification by faith alone is a doctrine worth dying for: people need to die believing that truth.

The Puritan (ahem), Anthony Burgess, while vigorously opposing antinomianism, nevertheless suggested that the doctrine of justification, unlike any other, inclines God's people to increased humility and self-emptiness, "for by this we are taught even in the highest degree of our sanctification, to look out of ourselves for a better righteousness." 

We are never so holy as to think that there isn't a better righteousness than our own. If we did not possess an "alien" righteousness, that perfectly answers to the demands of God's law, the Christian life would be pure misery.

Nonetheless, Robert Murray M'Cheyne - a particularly godly person - made the comment that sanctification is "the better half of salvation."

He is echoing a point made by another Scot, Samuel Rutherford.

Rutherford asks the question, whether Christ should be more loved for justification or sanctification? Rutherford claimed to love Christ more for the latter, because "it is greater love in him to sanctify than to justify." For in sanctification we are made like Jesus, i.e., conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29).

In his provocative way of writing, Rutherford asserts:

Let a sinner, if possible, lie in hell for ever. If God makes him truly holy, and lets him stay there burning in love to God, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, hanging on to Christ by faith and hope, then that is Heaven to that saint in the bottom of hell.

Such is the blessing of Christ-likeness, according to Rutherford. But I'm not quite with M'Cheyne and Rutherford. Perhaps their godliness - and the fact they were Scots - explains their view.

Personally, I am so thankful for my right standing with God because, after all, my sanctification is more imagined than real. But my justification is more real than imagined.

And if you ask me which blessing I love most right now, the answer is easy: union with Christ. For, in him, I have everything, so that I don't really need to decide whether I love justification or sanctification more than another. I'm comforted, primarily, by the fact that I belong to Christ and his work for me and in me will not fail.  

When it comes to Christ himself, we may ask, which is more present in him? The truth is, he is both - and always has been - perfectly justified and sanctified, even now in Heaven. The Father declares him righteous (Matt. 3:17; 1 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 1:4), the Spirit makes him righteous (Gal. 5:22). And that is my hope: that one day I will be like him: perfect in every way (i.e., glorified).

Pastor Mark Jones believes Canada is better than America.