Justification

The Impossibility of Good Works Apart from Justification by Faith Alone (Belgic Confession Article 24)

It has been rightly said that faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone (i.e. sanctification and good works must necessarily follow). You can even go so far as to speak of the necessity of good works, although certainly not as the grounds or basis for our justification.

But have you ever considered the fact that good works are actually quite impossible apart from justification by faith alone? The first paragraph of Belgic Confession article 24 makes this abundantly clear:

“We believe that this true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin. Therefore it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a faith working through love, which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word.”

Here the Confession addresses one of the most common objections to the gospel of God’s free grace in Christ. People sometimes hear of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone (i.e. not by works), and conclude that if we are not saved by our works, and if salvation is really a free gift of God’s grace, then it does not matter how we live. Legalists will often go so far as to suggest that the gospel of free grace will invariably lead to licentiousness. (Paul addresses this same objection in Romans 6:1-14.)

In answer to this objection the Confession states,

“Therefore it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a faith working through love, which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word.”

And so not only does justification by faith not lead to people being “remiss” or lacking in pious and holy living, but the Confession goes so far as to say that, “on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation.”

Justification by faith alone is the only real source of truly good (not perfect) works. Salvation by works (which is what every other religion in human history ultimately teaches) is really what results in the utter absence of good works, as truly good works are done of out a living faith and a true love for God, whereas the religion of works or legalism spurs people on to works “only out of self-love or fear of damnation.”

In the end all forms of works-based salvation (false gospels all) ironically end up destroying or preventing the very possibility of good works, while only the free grace of the gospel and justification by faith alone can ever truly lead to good works, which must be done out of love to God.

Another way of saying that is to say that good works are utterly impossible for us outside of justification by faith alone.

 

Justification (The Westminster Confession of Faith – Chapter 11)

WCFThe Westminster Confession of Faith includes an entire chapter dealing with the doctrine of justification. It starts of with something of a definition:

“Those whom God effectually calls, he also freely justifies: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 11.1)

So justification is not a matter of “infusing” righteousness into a believer, and so making him or her to be righteous (which is the Roman Catholic position on justification), but rather a matter of: 1.) “pardoning their sins” (i.e. forgiveness), and 2.) “accounting and accepting their persons as righteous.” This is forensic or court room language. In justification, God both forgives all of our sins and views or accounts us as righteous in His sight (not just as if we had never sinned, but also as if we had always obeyed His will in all things).

How does He do this? How can God then (to use Paul’s phrase) “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26, ESV)? How can a holy and just God justify the wicked? The Confession goes on to say that it is “not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them.” So it is not on the basis of anything that we are or even that we become (i.e. infused righteousness), nor is it on the basis of anything that we do. Rather it is “for Christ’s sake alone,” on the basis of who He is and what He has done for us.

Notice also that while justification is through faith alone, that faith itself is in no way meritorious. Faith in and of itself does not justify; faith in and of itself is not accounted to us as righteousness. Rather, it is through faith alone that “the obedience and satisfaction of Christ” are imputed to us as our righteousness.

Notice also what the Confession explicitly excludes as the basis or grounds of our justification – “the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience.” The good works of obedience to God’s law  may be “the fruits and evidences of a true and living faith” (WCF 16.2), but they play no part in our justification. We are not counted righteous in God’s sight on the basis of them.

The justification of believers is a matter of God “imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”  Even our faith itself is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8)!

The Confession’s chapter on justification continues by stating:

“Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.” (11.2)

So while faith alone is the only “instrument of justification” (cf. Belgic Confession Article 22), that faith is never alone in the one who has been justified. As the old saying (attributed to Martin Luther) goes, “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Rather, the saving grace of faith is “ever [i.e. always] accompanied with all other saving graces.”

That means that all of the other benefits of Christ’s redemption (not just justification) are also communicated to us in Him, things such as adoption, sanctification, and even (in the life to come) glorification. This is what Paul is saying in Romans 8:29-30, where we read:

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (ESV)

Everything that is commonly considered as part of the ordo salutis (or order or salvation) is assured to everyone who is in Christ Jesus. And so if someone presumes to be justified by faith in Christ, but the other saving graces (such as sanctification) are yet absent, that person’s faith is nothing but “dead faith.” True saving faith “works by love.” Justification and sanctification must always be distinguished from each other, but never separated.

This chapter in the Confession goes on to speaking of the nature of Christ’s work of atonement:

“Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to his Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them; and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both, freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.” (11.3)

In other words, Christ’s death really did make satisfaction or propitiation for our sins. The justice of God was satisfied by His obedience and death (the active and passive obedience of Christ). And so our justification is a matter of justice toward Christ and His work, but grace alone toward us. Christ alone earned or merited our salvation by His work, which we receive all of the benefits of by the sheer grace of God! In this way both the justice and the grace of God are glorified!

The next thing that this chapter deals with is the idea of eternal justification or justification from eternity. It says:

“God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.” (11.4)

God’s decree of justification (i.e. His decision and plan to justify His elect) was from all eternity, and so cannot fail to come to pass in His appointed time. But we are not then to suppose that the elect were justified from all eternity. Not only that, but here the Confession also rules out the idea that the elect were justified when Christ died and rose again. We must not confuse the historia salutis (i.e. Christ’s accomplishment of our redemption in time through His death and resurrection) with the ordo salutis (or the application of Christ’s work of redemption to us).

Rather, we are not justified until the Holy Spirit (in our effectual calling – see Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.29-31) applies Christ and the benefits of His redemption to us. This is simply to affirm what Paul says in Romans 5:1, that we are “justified by faith” (emphasis mine).

This chapter of the Confession then turns our attention to a right understanding of the implications of our justification, saying,

“God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and, although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.” (11.5)

Justification can never be intermitted or lost. Believers in Christ “can never fall from the state of justification.” But this does not mean that God literally no longer sees or notices our sins. In fact, we may at times, by means of our sins, “fall under God’s fatherly displeasure” and so experience His chastisement or discipline. God’s fatherly displeasure is in no way inconsistent with the doctrine of justification. As the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it:

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7-11, ESV)

God’s fatherly displeasure and discipline are not signs of wrath, but of love toward His justified and adopted children in Christ. Justification does not mean that we no longer need to confess our sins, ask for forgiveness for them, and renew our repentance from them.

The last thing that this chapter of the Confession points out to us is that justification has always been this way, both in the Old Testament as well as in the New:

“The justification of believers under the old testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the new testament.” (11.6)

Everything that the Confession of Faith states regarding justification (in 11.1-11.5 above) held true for the saints in the Old Testament, just as it does in our day! It cannot be emphasized enough that the way of salvation has always and only been by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Abraham, Moses, David, and the rest of the saints in the Old Testament were justified the exact same way that you and I are today – by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. They were justified the exact same way that believers have always been justified – through faith alone. The good news of the gospel has not changed.

Justification By Faith Alone (Belgic Confession Article 22)

with-heart-and-mouthThe Belgic Confession (1561) contains no less than two (2) articles dealing with the topic of justification. The first of these is Article 22 (“Our Justification Through Faith in Jesus Christ”), which is as follows:

We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, appropriates Him, and seeks nothing more besides Him. For it must needs follow, either that all things which are requisite to our salvation are not in
Jesus Christ, or if all things are in Him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith have complete salvation in Him. Therefore, for any to assert that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides Him, would be too gross a blasphemy; for hence it would follow that Christ was but half a Savior.

“Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith apart from works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He has done for us and in our stead, is our righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with Him in all His benefits, which, when they become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.”

First note the source of justifying faith – it is the work of the Holy Spirit who “kindles in our hearts an upright faith.” No doubt this is what Paul means in Ephesians 2:8 when he tells us that we have been saved by grace through faith, and then adds, “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (ESV). Even our very faith in Christ is the gift of God! Left to ourselves, none of us would ever believe in Christ for salvation.

Second, note the object (so to speak) of justifying faith – Jesus Christ with all His merits.” In other words, by faith we embrace or receive Christ Himself (His person) and all of His merits (i.e. His work – all that He has done for our salvation). In his exposition of the Belgic Confession (With Heart and Mouth), Daniel Hyde writes,

“By faith we look outside of our merit and ourselves. Like beggars, we receive only that which is given by another. What is given is the only One who has done anything good in the eyes of God, the only One who merited, that is, earned, and therefore was rewarded with righteousness to give to his people on the basis of his obedience to the law.” (p.294-295)

Notice thirdly the “instrument” of our justification – faith alone. We must be careful to understand that it is not faith of itself that justifies us, as if it were somehow inherently meritorious before God, but rather that faith itself is the only instrument by which we receive Christ and all of the benefits of redemption. Faith is “only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our righteousness.” Christ Himself is our righteousness. Christ Himself justifies us and saves us from our sins. 

Faith alone is the instrument of our justification, for it is through faith alone that we look outside of ourselves and “embrace Christ our righteousness,” and so are justified in Him!

 

Martin Luther on “Alien Righteousness”

AlienMartin Luther is often quoted as speaking of the imputed  righteousness of Christ in the justification of sinners as an “alien righteousness.”

Now that may sound like a rather odd phrase, but Luther here is not speaking of little green men. What he means is that such a righteousness is utterly foreign to us; it is not inherent or even infused in us, but is entirely from outside of us.

He says of this alien righteousness:

“[It] is the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies through faith, as it is written in I Cor. 1[:30]: “Whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”” (Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, p.155)

He spells this out in more detail later in the same paragraph, where he writes,

“Therefore a man can with confidence boast in Christ and say: “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.””

Can you say those same things confidently? If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you can! For in your justification by faith in Christ, Christ’s own “living, doing, speaking, suffering and dying” are just as much yours as if you yourself “had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.”

In justification, the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ is imputed to you by faith. That includes what is often referred to as His “passive obedience” (i.e. His suffering and death on the cross), as well as His “active obedience” (i.e. His life of perfect, sinless obedience to the will of His Father).

Now that really is good news that is out of this world!

Justification (Shorter Catechism Q.33)

1710_largeThe 500th anniversary of what is commonly held to be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation is nearly upon us! For it was on October 31st, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his now-famous “95 Theses” to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s invitation to debate these 95 points of doctrine or contention has been called the spark that lit the flame of the Protestant Reformation.

With this momentous anniversary almost upon us, I thought it might be helpful to post something on the protestant doctrine of justification. Justification by faith alone (sola fide) is often called the “material cause” of the Reformation. In other words, it was front and center in many of the debates, discussions, and even trials. The “formal cause” of the Reformation – the underlying foundational issue – was the authority of Scripture (or sola Scriptura).

The doctrine of justification has been called the doctrine by which the church stands or falls (Martin Luther), and the hinge on which the Christian religion turns (John Calvin). So what is it? What is the biblical doctrine of justification?

I believe that the simplest and most helpful definition of justification is found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, where it says,

“Q. 33. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

So the first thing we see there in that definition is that justification is “an act of God’s grace.” It is an act of the grace of God, and so it is a gift, freely given to all who are in Christ by faith. It is not earned, nor can it be. In other words, the basis of our justification is not found in anything inherent in us at all.

The second thing we see is that justification is a one-time act, as distinguished from sanctification, which is an ongoing “work of God’s free grace” (Q.35). There are no degrees of justification; there is no growth (or decay) in justification. In fact, as Westminster Larger Catechism Q.77 points out, justification “does equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation” (italics added). All genuine believers in Christ are equally, perfectly, and irrevocably (!) justified in Christ and so freed from God’s wrath! That is grace!

The third thing that we see here in this definition of justification is that this act of God’s grace in Christ includes the pardon or forgiveness of all of our sins. What a wonderful blessing (Psalm 103:2-3)! No wonder the Apostle Paul says,

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1, ESV)

Forgiveness and peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ! Is there anything that sinners could possibly need more than that? No wonder the gospel of Christ is good news!

But wait, there’s more! The fourth thing that we see in the Shorter Catechism’s definition of justification is that in it God not only pardons all of our sins, but He also “accepts us as righteous in his sight.” Being forgiven is one thing, but then also being accepted by a holy God as if we were righteous in His sight! Justification is much more than a clean slate! It is having a positively righteous slate or standing in the eyes of a holy God!

How is that even possible? How can sinners be accepted by God as righteous in His sight? What is the basis or ground of this new standing before God? The Catechism adds that it is “only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” When we come to Christ by faith, His perfect, spotless righteousness is reckoned or imputed to our account in God’s sight!

In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ did not just die in our place, but He lived in our place as well! This is often spoken of as the “active obedience” of Christ (in contrast to His “passive” obedience, wherein He suffered and died in our place). His obedience is reckoned as our obedience when it comes to our standing before God!

And how is the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us and received by us? By faith alone. Period. Not by something we do; not by faith in Christ plus something else – faith alone. And it is by faith alone in order to ensure that it is by God’s grace alone (Romans 4:16).

What a wonderfully full and yet concise definition of justification! And what a beautiful and comforting truth! That is certainly something well worth considering, meditating upon, and celebrating.

 

J.C. Ryle on the Spiritual Use of the Law

holinessCan a sinner be justified in the sight of a holy God by works, or by obedience to God’s commandments? No, of course not. In Galatians 2:16 the Apostle Paul plainly states as much:

“yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (ESV)

Notice that Paul basically states this same truth at least three (3) times in just this one simple verse. (It’s as if he is trying to emphasize his point!) No one will be justified by the works of the law. No one.

Having established that, we must be careful to maintain that although we are not in any way justified by works or by obedience to God’s commandments, yet this does not therefore mean that we as believers in Christ have no more need or use for God’s law. Quite the opposite! In his book, Holiness, J.C. Ryle writes,

“There is no greater mistake than to suppose that a Christian has nothing to do with the law and the Ten Commandments, because he cannot be justified by keeping them. The same Holy Ghost who convinces the believer of sin by the law, and leads him to Christ for justification, will always lead him to a spiritual use of the law, as a friendly guide, in the pursuit of sanctification.” (p.26)

As Ryle rightly points out, the Holy Spirit not only uses the law of God to convince or convict the believer of his or her sin, and so to drive them to look to Christ by faith for salvation from sin (often referred to as the pedagogical use of the law), but after conversion also leads that same believer to what Ryle calls a “spiritual use of the law.” What is that “spiritual use” of God’s law? It is to use it as the believer’s rule for life (often called the normative or 3rd use of the law).

To the believer who has been justified by faith alone in Christ alone, the law no longer holds forth the threat of condemnation for sin, but now serves as (to use Ryle’s words) a “friendly guide” in our lifelong pursuit of sanctification.

The Resurrection as a “Comfortable Sign” of the Believer’s Justification

GoodwinIn his book, Christ Set Forth, Puritan writer Thomas Goodwin (1600-1679) includes a chapter about how the Christian’s faith is supported by the resurrection of Christ. In other words, Christ’s resurrection from the dead on the 3rd day provides us with assurance that the price for our redemption really has been fully paid by Christ on the cross, and has been accepted by God as satisfaction for our sin.  Goodwin writes,

“Although Christ’s obedience in this life and his death past do alone afford the whole matter of our justification, and make up the sum of that price paid for us . . . , so as faith may see a fullness of worth and merit therein, to discharge the debt; yet faith has a comfortable sign and evidence to confirm itself in the belief of this, from Christ’s resurrection after his death. It may fully satisfy our faith, that God himself is satisfied, and that he reckons the debt as paid.” (p.62)

Have you ever thought about the resurrection that way? If you are a believer in Christ, you can look to Christ’s resurrection as a “comfortable sign” (i.e. a sign that gives you comfort and assurance) of the reality of your justification in Christ!

This is just part of what Goodwin understands the Apostle Paul to be saying in Romans 8:34, where we read:

“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

Christ’s resurrection puts God’s exclamation point on the gospel!

The Difference Between Justification & Sanctification

WCFWhat is the difference between justification & sanctification?  Good question. The Westminster Larger Catechism (not surprisingly) supplies us with a very helpful answer:

Q.77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ? A. Although sanctification is inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputes the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification His Spirit infuses grace, and enables the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one does equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

So the first thing this tells us is that we must distinguish between the two, but never separate them. You cannot have one without the other (as they are “inseparably joined”), but they differ in significant ways. How, then, do they differ?

First, justification involves the imputation (or reckoning, accounting) of Christ’s righteousness, while sanctification involves the actual infusion of grace and the enabling to exercise it in daily life.  You may recall that the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification mistakenly teaches that justification involves the infusion (rather than the imputation) of Christ’s righteousness. But the biblical doctrine of justification is that in Christ all believers are declared righteous, rather than made righteous. This is what Paul is speaking of in Romans 4:3-5,

“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness . . . .”

Abraham was not justified by works, but by believing God at His Word in the promise of the gospel. Justification is (to borrow the words of v.5) a matter of God ‘justifying the ungodly’ (or the “wicked” – NIV), not matter of God making the ungodly person godly. (That would be sanctification.)

The second difference noted above in the Larger Catechism is that in justification sin is forgiven, while in sanctification it is subdued. In the former, all believers in Christ are forever freed from the just penalty of their sins – the wrath of God. But in the latter, the  grace of God works in the lives of believers to subdue the power of sin over their lives. In other words, in justification we are viewed and accepted by God as sinless because we are in Christ; but in sanctification we begin to actually and objectively sin less than we did before coming to Christ by faith.

The third difference is a very important one, and that is that all believers are equally & perfectly justified, but sanctification can and does differ from one believer to the next in this life. There are no degrees of justification (i.e. you are either justified before God or you are not), but there most certainly are differing degrees of sanctification. Not only that, but while all believers are perfectly justified in this life, none of us are perfectly sanctified in this life. Not a one. In this life all believers are, by the grace of God, “growing up to perfection.”

So let us never separate justification and sanctification – they belong together. The one who has been once and for all time justified in Christ will also presently be in the process of being sanctified in this life. But let us also avoid the opposite mistake of confusing the two or mixing them up. To do that is to (at minimum) hinder our growth in grace, or even (at worst) to deny the gospel itself.

The Glorious Certainty of the Gospel

Machen

What is the relationship between the grace of God in the gospel and assurance? Why is the doctrine of justification by faith alone so important? J. Gresham Machen writes,

Such is the glorious certainty of the gospel. The salvation of the Christian is certain because it depends altogether upon God; if it depended in slightest measure upon us, the certainty of it would be gone. Hence appears the vital importance of the great Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone;  that doctrine is at the very centre of Christianity. It means that acceptance with God is not something that we earn; it is not something that is subject to the wretched uncertainties of human endeavor; but it is a free gift of God. (What Is Faith?, p.200-201)

That is just one more reason why the doctrine of justification by faith alone is so important. It is not just a matter for ivory tower theologians or fodder for theological debate – far from it!  It makes all the difference in the world to each and every believer in Christ. Why? Because it is the only real way to true certainty and assurance in the Christian life.

Justification by faith alone presents us with a choice between the “glorious certainty of the gospel” (i.e. knowing without a shadow of a doubt that you have been fully forgiven and accepted by a holy God) or the wretched uncertainties of human endeavor.”

If our salvation depends upon our works in even the slightest degree, all certainty and assurance are cast aside. But if salvation is a free gift of God (which is ultimately what justification by faith alone entails), then & only then can the believer truly have the peace and assurance that comes with believing the gospel of Christ.

John Murray on Sanctification

Murray

In his book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray writes the following about the sanctification of the believer in Christ:

There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another for us to live in sin. (p.145)

If you are a Christian and you struggle with sin . . . welcome to the club!  That is not a cause for worry or despair.   The work of the Lord in your sanctification is ongoing; it is lifelong.  You will spend the rest of your life repenting of sin, and you will do that because of the grace of God at work in you!

The time to worry (as Murray says) is if you are complacent in and about your sin.  That is a sign that sin is still reigning in your life.  It is a sign that, despite whatever profession of faith you may have made, you are simply not yet a Christian.

But if you are a believer in Christ, you are no longer a slave to sin.  As Paul writes in Romans 6:20-23,

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 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. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is vitally important that we understand the difference between “surviving sin and reigning sin.”  The better we understand not only the nature of our justification, but our sanctification in Christ as well, the better equipped we will be to deal with our sins and the doubts that sometimes accompany them.

Justification is an “act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.33).  So we are not justified by anything that we do (not by any righteousness of our own!), but only on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Christ, accounted to us by faith alone!

And sanctification is “the work of God’s free 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” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.35).  So, unlike justification (which is a one-time act of God’s grace), sanctification is the ongoing work of God’s free grace in the life of a believer, conforming us more and more into the image of Christ.

Understanding the work of God’s grace in our sanctification (like the act of His grace in our justification) is a key to experiencing the assurance of our salvation in Jesus Christ.  In fact, truly understanding the difference between the two (our justification and our sanctification) is one of the keys to experiencing the assurance of our salvation.

And God most certainly does want every one of us who believes in the name of Jesus Christ to know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

Who said that theology wasn’t practical!