So after the Summer of 2003 I felt that I could understand the Protestant position in such a way as to resolve my concerns, but I always felt that Protestants often have a rough time understanding the proper relationship between justification and sanctification. Many of the sermons I wrote up and preached at Christ OPC were written with the intent of helping the congregation to gain a better understanding of various theological topics, and I wrote this sermon to help provide a better grasp of how justification relates to sanctification--or how the imputation of Christ's righteousness relates to the infusion of Christ's righteousness and the good works that flow from that.
Since then I have become Catholic, and have therefore embraced as my official terminology the Catholic way of articulating justification, which is the Augustinian way. So my substantial views on this topic--the relationship between imputation and infusion--have not changed, though my terminological habits have to some degree. Also, now that I do not self-identify as Protestant, there is no longer the pressing need to articulate my views in the context of classic Protestant articulations and I am free to contrast typical understandings of Protestant language with a more accurate Augustinian view, although I am also free still to express my own views in more Protestant language. I hope both to challenge Protestants to reconsider certain popular ways of understanding their own position and to reconsider their animosity to the Catholic point of view, as well as to try to show both Catholics and Protestants that there are ways of construing the Protestant position that don't require the Protestant and the Catholic positions to be in substantial conflict with each other, thereby aiding fruitful dialogue.
So I put forward this sermon, unchanged (except formatted for this blog, with some changes of biblical quotations to the KJV) from when I wrote it, as an example of the same basic view I hold currently but expressed in Protestant terminology in a Protestant doctrinal context and for a Protestant audience. May it aid the dialogue.
Romans 6: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It has been my experience that many Christians are confused as to the relationship between justifications and sanctification. We know that we are justified because Christ has paid for our sins through his satisfaction of God’s justice on the cross. We know that he lived a life of righteousness for us, in our place, and that, through faith, his righteousness is imputed to us, so that although we have no merit of our own and no ability to satisfy God’s justice, we are counted righteous because we are clothed by imputation with the righteousness of Christ. God accepts us as righteous, not because of our own good works or any merit in them, but solely because Christ’s satisfaction and righteousness have been counted ours. We also know that, as a result of this, we are given the Spirit who sanctifies us, and we are to live holy lives through the Spirit, in order to please God and because we love him, and as an expression of our gratitude for his salvation. However, I think that many of us are a bit confused about the purpose of sanctification, and how it fits in with justification. If we are fully justified in Christ, why do we have sanctification at all? What is the point of it? If we cannot add to the imputed righteousness of Christ, then what is the point of the internal righteousness that is the product of sanctification? It almost can seem like the holiness of sanctification is an afterthought, or an addendum, that doesn’t seem to fit in. It is like someone coming to pay the bill after the bill has already been fully paid. God is fully satisfied with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us; he regards us as wholly just, and heirs of his kingdom. But, then, for some inexplicable reason, he tells us he wants us to be internally righteous as well, and even makes a big deal of it--Speaking of the deeds of the flesh, Paul says, “those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” The Book of Hebrews says that “without holiness no one shall see the Lord.” But why? It is almost as if God forgot that he had imputed Christ’s righteousness to us, and went back to asking us for our own righteousness. Why, if God is fully satisfied with the righteousness of Christ, does he seem so concerned that we be internally righteous as well?
Some of the answers Christians sometimes give to this question simply increase the conundrum rather than solving it. They will say, “Well, God is wholly satisfied with Christ’s imputed righteousness, so he doesn’t need anything else. Nothing else is required. But shouldn’t we say ‘thank you’ to him for such a great salvation? We’ll give him a little something extra, not because it is required, but just to say ‘thanks!’.” It is like the tip given to the waiter after the meal has been fully paid for--a gratuity. But the problem is that such a gratuity is, well, gratuitous--that is, unnecessary. And yet the Bible, as we have noted, doesn’t seem to think of holiness of life as something unnecessary, as simply an add-on after the real stuff has been fully accomplished in justification, like the cherry on top of the dessert. It treats it as something essential. And yet it is hard to see how that could be so. Isn’t Christ’s righteousness enough?
This conundrum leads many Christians towards antinomianism. Not seeing a need for sanctification, and emphasizing the finished work of Christ and the completed justification, they decide that sanctification must be optional--as Pastor Wallace sometimes puts it, they see it as an a way to “accessorize their salvation”--perhaps by gaining some higher place in heaven, or some greater rewards, but not as essential to eternal life. But the Bible talks about sanctification as an essential part of our salvation, without which “no one shall see the Lord.”
So what is going on here? What is sanctification? How does it relate to justification? Why is it so important? What is it for? Our text before us this morning, in the context of the rest of the Bible, provides the answers to these questions. The basic answer, as we are going to see, is this: Our status in justification is inseparably bound up with our internal state in sanctification. They are necessary to complete each other.
Let’s look how Paul spells this out in our passage before us. Paul, in the preceding chapters, has been outlining the basic position of justification by faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ. The basic summary of this can be found in Romans 3:21-4:8:
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Here Paul makes it crystal clear that we not at all justified through out own righteousness, our own works, or our own merit. Rather, our justification is wholly by means of the righteousness of Christ. He took our sins upon himself when he died on the cross, becoming a propitiation for our sins. That is, he suffered for our sins, removing them from us, and imputing therefore his perfect righteousness to us. Christ satisfied the justice of God and was resurrected, showing that he had merited the divine favor. That merit is counted ours through faith, by which we lay hold onto the righteousness and satisfaction of Christ. Paul says we are justified by faith apart from works, that is by faith alone, because we look only to the righteousness of Christ and not at all to our own works or righteousness as the entire basis for our justification, for our being made right with God and his law, so that we no longer merit his wrath but are heirs of eternal life.
In chapter six, Paul begins to apply the doctrine of justification to its implications in the doctrine of sanctification. He is switching gears. Up to this point, he has focused pretty much all of his attention on outlining justification by faith. Now, he begins with a new question--the very question I have posed as the subject of our lesson this morning: 6:1: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” This is a very logical question. If you’ve been following Paul up to this point, that is the next logical question that will have occurred to your mind. “Doesn’t this doctrine of justification by faith through the imputed righteousness of Christ alone do away with any need for internal, personal holiness of life?”
Here is Paul’s answer: 6:2-11:
God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul’s basic answer is that the status of righteousness given to us in our justification implies the state of holiness given to us in our sanctification. Not just that one tends to be followed by the other, as if it is simply an arbitrary and possibly dissolvable connection. No, Paul sees sanctification as logically entailed by justification. “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” Paul’s reasoning goes like this: “In justification, we were united to Christ in his death. He took our sins upon himself, uniting himself with us so that his death will be counted ours. When he suffered for our sins, the result was that, as he said on the cross, “It is finished.” Once he had finished dying for our sins, death no longer had any dominion over him. He was declared fully justified, ‘for he who has died has been freed--literally, justified--from sin.’ Christ, having died to sin, rose from the dead, both spiritually and physically, and morally, being vindicated as righteous by God and his Law, and declared worthy of eternal life--thus, he was lifted up and exalted to God’s right hand. That was the implication of the fact that he had completed his death to sin. Now that has implications for us as well. If his death is our death, then his resurrection is also our resurrection by the same unity that unites us to Christ. Christ was not only legally declared freed from sin, but he was given all the implications and fruits of that freedom. Sin no longer had dominion over him, he was free of it, free to be raised up, to be with his Father, being united to him in the eternal bonds of love. So we, too, having died to sin through the body of Christ, are raised up with him and enjoy with him all the fruits of his vindication--we are restored to right fellowship with God, made children of God, raised up and seated with God in the heavens, made partakers of his holiness, able to be pleased with him and to please him. "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Think about the implications of our having been guilty before God and under his law, and think about the implications of having been justified from sin and reconciled to God and his law through the sacrifice and righteousness of Christ, and we can see the logic of Paul‘s reasoning here. Being in a state of guilt before God, and alienation from God, implied that we were estranged from him. This would not be compatible with having an internal state of holiness, which could not but be pleasing to God (although not meritorious). God cannot but love love to himself. To love God is a good thing, wherever it may be found, and it is something that delights God. Also, to love God implies that we attach ourselves to him and make him our all, our portion in this life and forever, which implies that we will be delighted in his victory over evil and that he is glorified in all things. Therefore, a state of guilt and condemnation before God in our legal status would be incompatible with a state of holiness and love to God in our internal state. It is a manifest contradiction to imagine the damned in hell full of love to God, rejoicing in his glory. No, they are full of weeping and gnashing of teeth, full of eternal cursing of the God they hate with all their being. That is at least partly why the first sin of Adam led not merely to a state of condemnation in terms of guilt to himself and his descendants, but also to a state of unholiness and sinful nature. That is why when Adam’s sin is imputed to his descendants, not only guilt, but a corrupted nature is also passed down. That is why total guilt is always associated with total depravity--they logically imply each other. Likewise, it would be a contradiction to be saved from the guilt of sin and legally declared reconciled to God and his law, and yet remain in an internal state of total depravity, without sanctification. The fruits and benefits of justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ include actual friendship with God, an ability to be pleasing to him and to be pleased with him, to love him and be loved by him, to glorify and enjoy him forever. This would be impossible if we were to remain in a state of “unsanctification.” Without regeneration and sanctification, we would remain haters of God. We would reject him and loath him. We would not be able to enjoy him or enjoy the benefits of union with him. Also, he could not be fully pleased with us. Just as God must love love to himself, as it is something that is inherently good and pleasing to him, so he must likewise hate hatred to himself, as something inherently displeasing. If we remained unsanctified, God would legally be reconciled to us, but in actuality he would loath all that we are and do to all eternity. Just as it was impossible to imagine the damned in hell as loving God, so it is impossible the saved in heaven hating and spitting upon him. The two pictures are both equally absurd and contradictory. Once again, drawing on my philosophical personality with its tendencies to look for odd, but I trust helpful analogies, think of this analogy: We’ve all heard fairy-tales of the prince who gets turned into a frog, and then (hopefully) back again into a prince. What if the prince gets legally declared to be a frog, with the status of a frog, but remains in the state of being a prince, with all the appearance of a prince? Surely this would be absurd. His status as a frog would be unrealistic. The princess would still want to marry him, because having a legal status of being a frog surely doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t have any practical effect on one’s actual state and life. And, likewise, if when the princess kissed the frog (isn’t that how it’s supposed to go?), he got legally declared to have the status of a prince, but remained in his state as a frog, it wouldn’t really do him much good. His legal status would end up being largely fictional and unrealistic, since he would not gain any of its appropriate fruits in his actual life. The princess probably would not be satisfied with his legal status and would not marry him, since in his actual state he would be just as frog-like as ever. This is the sort of logic that Paul has in mind in our passage (well, basically anyway, not in the specifics in terms of frogs and princesses probably). “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” How shall we who have been justified and hence freed from sin, still live in it with all of its evil implications?
Paul goes on to continue to work out the implications of the fact that sanctification is logically connected to justification. In verses 12-14, he gives us a practical application that we are to take up, based on what he has just said:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
This is sometimes called the relationship between the indicative and the imperative. That is, between the fact and the duty that arises from it. The fact is that we are “dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The duty that arises from this is that we are to live as if this is really so! “Therefore, let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Notice the almost paradoxical-sounding conclusion in verse 14: Sin shall not have dominion over you, why? Because you are under the law, and its demands are still upon you? That’s what we might expect him to say. But rather he says we should be righteous and not live in sin, because we are not under law but under grace. Antinomians, those who wish to use grace as an excuse for sin and licentiousness, think of the dominion of grace and the dominion of sin as being the same thing. To be under grace and not under law, they think, is to be free from righteousness so that they can enjoy being slaves to sin. But just the opposite is really true. To be free from the law and under the dominion of grace means to be set free from sin so that we can be holy in our lives. A couple of chapters later, in 8:2-4, Paul puts it this way:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
The whole point of Christ’s satisfying the law on our behalf was not so that we could be free from the law, but so that we could be reconciled to the law, so that in our lives “the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Titus 2:11-14 puts it this way:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
In reliance on the grace of God, therefore, we should live in such way as to “put to death the deeds of the flesh” and live according to holiness. In Romans 8:5-17 spells this out clearly:
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
In the rest of our chapter, Paul goes on to repeat what he has said and to make it even more clear, spelling out its implications: 6:15-23:
What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul reaffirms what he has already said. We cannot sin because we are under grace, because grace does not leave us in bondage to sin, but frees us from sin and makes us slaves of righteousness. Therefore, we should live is such a way that we turn away from our sin and live our lives as the righteous people God has declared us to be in Christ through the power of his Spirit, whom he has given to us as a fruit of our union with Christ. Paul adds an important point here. He points out that “sin leads to death,” and righteousness leads to eternal life. “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.” Sin has a natural tendency to lead to death. If we were justified from sin without being sanctified from sin, although we would be free from sin with regard to our legal status, yet in our actual state, sin would still dominate us. If that were so, it would lead us to death, as it always does. Justification is not enough to save us from eternal death. The internal logic of sin means that if it still dominates us, no matter what our legal status is, it will produce death for us. It will make us enemies to God. He would continue to be displeased with what we are and we would continue to be displeased with what he is. It would be unfitting for God to respond to sin in any way other than displeasure and to cause suffering to be the result of it. Imagine if we were in heaven, standing before God, justified by Christ’s righteousness, yet totally unsanctified. We are standing before God, and we spit in his face. In response, he says to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into my rest.” Is this not the height of absurdity? Such a situation would make a mockery of God, his justice, and his honor. Surely such an attitude must receive rebuke from God, not reward. God must hate hatred to himself and must reward it according to what is fitting. It would therefore be entirely unfit, as well as logically impossible, for God to reward us with eternal life while we are still in a state of sin. Sin, therefore, if it remains in us, must lead to death. We are not perfectly sanctified in this life, and that brings to us God’s chastisement, what the Westminster Confession calls God’s “fatherly displeasure.” God is not wholly pleased with what we are in this life, although we are fully justified in Christ. We have not yet received in our state what is fully ours by grace according to our status. One day our state shall fully match our status. But that requires sanctification. Paul’s logic here is that sin, by its very nature, inherently leads to death, and therefore we must be freed from its presence is us and dominance over us by sanctification in order to be fully freed from death. But is not justification enough? Does it not grant us full freedom from death, which is the curse of the guilt of sin? How can sanctification add to that? Yes, it is true that justification grants us all that we need to be entirely free from sin and death and wholly reconciled to God and worthy of eternal life. It is not the sanctification adds to justification; rather, it is that sanctification is the working out of the implications of justification in us, bringing us into the enjoyment of the inheritance we have been legally granted solely on the basis of Christ’s imputed merits. To use another analogy: If I buy a software program for my computer--say, Microsoft Word--my payment of the money to the storekeeper makes that program wholly mine (ignoring for the moment the complexities of Microsoft’s attitudes towards ownership--let’s pretend it’s simply than it is for the sake of the illustration). However, it doesn’t do me any good until I actually install it into my computer. My need to install it doesn’t imply that it is not fully mine; it doesn’t “add” anything to my possession of it. It simply is a working out of the implications of my possession of it. Similarly, sanctification does not add anything to Christ’s imputed righteousness, as though that righteousness were insufficient and we needed more righteousness; rather, sanctification is the practical outworking of justification, bringing us into the full enjoyment of all the blessings that are already ours solely through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. This is what the Apostle James is talking about in his much-misunderstood passage in James 2:14-26:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
James has been misconstrued to be saying that the imputed righteousness of Christ, received by faith alone, is not enough. Our own works must be added to that righteousness. But if you understand what Paul is saying in Romans 6, it becomes plain what James is saying in James 2. It is not that works complete faith in the sense of adding to it, but rather in the sense of working out its full implications, bringing it into its own, into the fulfillment of all that it implies. Abraham was fully justified by Christ’s imputed righteousness when he believed God, but that status was brought to completion when it resulted in the change of state that was manifested by Abraham’s obedience in offering his son Isaac on the altar. “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” Then the Scripture was fulfilled, and he was called the friend of God. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Without sanctification, justification remains a hollow promise, without substance. It remains a promise of reconciliation to God, without the fruit of that reconciliation and the reality of it in our actual lives. But with sanctification, justification produces its fruit and brings us into the actual enjoyment of its promises. Sanctification brings to fruition all that justification implies. It is its substance and fulfillment. Therefore, we need not hesitate to affirm the necessity of sanctification for eternal life. We need not add it as a cherry on top, a gratuitous addition to an already complete salvation. It is, rather, an essential component of the process, without which our justification would be a hollow fiction. That is, by the way, also why the Bible can in one breath talk about our being justified by faith apart from our own merits, and then turn around in the next breath and tell us that we will be rewarded with eternal life “according to our works.” These are not contradictory, because the reality of Christ’s imputed righteousness is manifested in the internal holiness the Spirit works in us. So, as Augustine famously said, when God crowns our works, he is really crowning his own merits. Our works are the fruit, the manifestation, in our state, of our status of justification. Hence, without holiness, no one shall see the Lord. But because we have been reconciled to God though Christ’s righteousness, we have “[our] fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Comforts: Christ does not just make us legally righteous. He fulfills that legal status in our actual state, and promises to complete it in the future. Exhortation: We should live righteously, realizing the holiness is not a gratuity, but essential to our salvation and our relationship with God. We want to be pleased with him and to please him.
For unbelievers and antinomians: Grace is not a cloak for licentiousness. If you do not have sanctification, you do not have justification either. Your faith is dead, as James said. It is the faith of demons.
For more, see here, here and here.
Published on the feast of St. Philip Neri