When people read or hear of the truth of justification by faith alone (i.e credited righteousness), the complaint brought forth is that such teaching is pure fiction. If God so declares something to be what it is not (declaring an unrighteous sinner righteous), is that not tantamount to a myth and fairy tale? Furthermore, does credited righteousness require fruit? Such questions are addressed in scripture.
James writes in James 2:17 “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” Faith is a gift given by God to the sinner in His saving work in acting for them and in them. (Ephesians 2:8-9; James 1:18). Once the sinner responds to the call of salvation, they are justified or declared pure, innocent and acceptable to God. The righteousness of Christ is credited to their account and they are deemed reconciled and at peace with God. (Romans 5:1).
Credited righteousness is the root and God's declared beginning point of the Christian life. As with all living plants, the root evidences itself as living by the trunk or stalk put forth, the branches or leaves springing forth from the trunk or stalk and then the flowers or fruit that follow. Practical righteousness is the progressive, cooperative effort that exists between God and the saint following that initial act of justification by faith. The Bible uses a term that summarizes the believer’s practical righteousness – sanctification. Romans 6:22 states for instance – “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”
Justification and sanctification, though intimately and inseparably related, are nonetheless distinct graces in the Christian life. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 describes justification: “Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.” Justification is a one time act, done by God.
Sanctification, on the other hand, is an ongoing process that entails cooperation between the Spirit of God and the believer. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 defines sanctification accordingly – “Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life.” Philippians 3:12-13 explains this cooperative effort between the Holy Spirit and the believer in sanctification – “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Justification is the root of our Christian life whereas sanctification is the ongoing trunk, branches, leaves and fruit of the Christian life. Justification is totally of God whereas sanctification involves both the saint and God. Justification centers on the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to me by faith alone whereas sanctification entails my practical righteousness depending upon Christ’s righteousness as it works out saving faith. Justification sets the sinner free from sin’s penalty while sanctification sets the saint free from sin’s power.
Now why labor over these distinctions between justification (i.e “credited righteousness”) and sanctification (i.e “practical righteousness”)? Because the Gospel not only deals with getting a man saved but it also serves to describe what life should be like after one gets saved. Practical righteousness must be present and flowing from the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ.
To illustrate, the watch I wear is one of those “Atomic Watches”. The watch itself has its own power supply and regular watch circuitry. However, there is a small radio circuit in that watch that receives periodic updates from the master atomic clock in Colorado. The master clock ensures that my time piece keeps the right time and to within a degree of a small fraction of a second. We could call the watch “the slave” and the clock in Colorado “the master”. Now the question is: which is keep the time? Certainly the watch ticks on, day by day. However by itself it will eventually become inaccurate, which is why it depends upon the master clock.
When we begin to understand how the Christian life works, Christians are certainly to live out the Christian life in the exercise of their practical righteousness. However that practical righteousness is based upon the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Absolute righteousness informs the believer’s practical righteousness. Will Christians at time falter? Yes. However the Spirit of God transmit and reminds the believer through the scripture to look to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-12). Jesus is the Lord of the believer from justification onward. He is ever the Master and we are the slaves. (Romans 6:12-13)
The aim of this series of thoughts has been to introduce the reader to the four main types of righteousness found in the Bible. It is hoped that this set of teachings have illuminated and informed the reader as to the richness of salvation and the Christian life. We defined righteousness from word studies and various scriptures as: “a life and conduct that is pure, innocent and perfectly pleasing with and before God.” We also considered the four main types of righteousness we find throughout the Bible:
1. God’s righteousness
2. Christ’s righteousness
3. Credited righteousness (justification by faith alone)
4. Practical righteousness (sanctification that entails faith at work)