Monday, March 6, 2017

Faith Followed By Good Works - Understanding Justification and Sanctification

1 Thessalonians 4:1-3 "Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality."

The respulsive nature of our sinfulness before saving faith that deserves judgment

Whenever you read some passages in the Bible, you may come away sometimes in shock or even disgust at the imagery and events. Certainly God's graphic description of the sins of His people is shocking and disgusting. Isn’t that what sin should be to us? Grotesque! James 4:4 reminds us - "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." 

The description of Jerusalem and Judah in Ezekiel's day would had matched any other wicked city such as Ninevah in Assyria, Babylonia in Babylon or Sodom and Gomorrah. God's point was well made - sin is disgusting, repulsive and should be despised by God's people. Moreover, our sin before a Holy Righteous God does nothing for us but to make us guilty and deserving of judgment. As a result of Adam's rebellion in the garden - death, sin and guilt have been inherited and experienced by every human being born in history (with the exception of Jesus).
How justification by faith alone removes the penalty of our sin

Whenever you turn to James 2, you read about the nature of true saving faith - that faith will always be followed by good deeds. Though we are saved by grace through faith apart from the law (the point of the book of Romans), yet saving faith should and must evidence a life that is not lawless (James' point). Both books do not conflict, but rather complement one another in seeing the same saving faith with respect to what it takes to get right with God in salvation (Romans = saved by grace alone through faith alone) and the nature of such faith following salvation (James = kept by grace and a faith that is never alone).

The Biblical doctrine of justification teaches that faith alone is necessary and sufficient to receive salvation. At saving faith, the entire active obedience of Christ in His life and passive submission in the cross and empty tomb is credited or imputed to our spiritual poverty. When Jesus was on the cross, our willful disobedient life and refusal to submit to God was credited or imputed to Jesus Christ. Hence in the Biblical teaching of justification, the spiritual transaction that occurs stems from a double-crediting, a double-imputation if-you-please. In other words, Jesus on the cross was treated like me so that in saving faith I could be credited the Father with the righteousness of Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). In justification, the penalty of my sin is removed. 

Justification by faith is likened unto a mother and the works of sanctification are the little children following 

However following salvation, good works proceeding from faith is the chief evidence demonstrating the reality of one's justification. (James 2:14-20) We are saved by grace through faith alone, however following salvation, we are being saved by a faith that is never alone. All good works that follow from the one-time Divine pronouncement of justification at saving faith is what the scriptures call "sanctification". Many over the centuries have wondered how justification by faith and sanctification in good works relate to one another. 

Think of faith as a mother and good deeds like the children that follow the mother. Wherever the mother is, the little children are there in close proximity. We see this in how human mothers and children relate to one another. We moreso see in the animal kingdom this same principle, such as ducklings or chicks following their mother. 

With justification, the penalty of my sin is removed and in sanctification the power of the necessity of sin is removed. Although the presence of sin won't be removed until believers are in the Lord's presence, the sanctifying work of the Spirit gives power to fight and overcome sins and desire righteousness. The wonder of sanctification is not only in being set free from sin's power, but also having the power to live right and do right for God on the basis of Jesus' credited righteousness. 

To further elaborate the distinctions between justification and sanctification: in justification, I am positionally deemed righteous by God with Christ's righteousness. In sanctification, the Holy Spirit is making me in experience whom God has declared me to be in position. Both graces together work in the Christian to make them like a child following after their Lord. 

Biblically illustrating justification and sanctification in action

We started out this post by noting the disgusting nature of sin. However James points out that a harlot by the name of Rahab was justified by faith and demonstrated such faith by hiding the Jewish spies in the days of the conquest of Jericho (James 2:25). She was justified by faith apart from works and continued living by sanctifying faith that does work. Can God save harlots? Absolutely! God's grace is the only thing that can reach you and me in the depths of our sin and Christ's blood is the only thing that can overflow the heights of our sin and wipe away its guilt. That's the relationship between justification and sanctification.

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