Tag Archives: Justification

What of Justification and Sanctification?

Righteous Status and Growth in Holiness

It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Romans 4:24-25

Justifying grace is God’s undeserved, loving commitment to rescue us from his wrath and judgment. In Christ, God delivers us from sin and transports us into his loving kingdom of forgiveness.  Justifying grace calls us to trust Jesus Christ as our savior, the one who has taken all our sin and just judgment upon himself. When we trust Christ by faith, his work of forgiveness begins by releasing us from our debt, transforming our hearts, and freeing us to live for him.

When we look to Christ in faith and believe that his death was our death and that his punishment was our judgment, we receive by God’s grace his righteousness. This righteous declaration is forensic in that the legal charges against us have been dropped and we have been declared in right standing with God. To be credited as righteous is to be conferred a legal standing of being forgiven and no longer liable to punishment.

Sanctifying grace is Jesus being the desire, ability, and power in us to respond to every life situation according to the will of God. Jesus is our desire for he works in us a hunger for holiness. Jesus is our ability for he enables us to make godly choices. Jesus is our power for he strengthens us to overcome the world, the flesh, sin, death, and the devil. Grace is the person, Jesus, living his life in and through us empowering us to live a righteous and holy life (2 Cor. 9:8, 2 Cor. 12:1-10, Titus 2:11-14). Sanctifying grace is Jesus living his life in us: this is the normal Christian life (1 Jn. 4:9).

Justification describes the position of acceptance with God which he gives us when we trust in Christ as our Saviour. It is a legal term, borrowed from the lawcourts, and its opposite is condemnation. To justify is to acquit, to declare an accused person to be just, not guilty. So the divine judge, because his Son has borne our condemnation, justifies us, pronouncing us righteous in his sight. ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8:1).

Sanctification, on the other hand, describes the process by which justified Christians are changed into the likeness of Christ. When God justifies us, he *declares* us righteous through Christ’s death for us; when he sanctifies us, he *makes* us righteous through the power of his Holy Spirit within us.

Justification concerns our outward status of acceptance with God; sanctification concerns our inward growth in holiness of character. Further, whereas our justification is sudden and complete, so that we shall never be more justified than we were on the day of our conversion, our sanctification is gradual and incomplete. It takes a few moments only in court for a judge to pronounce his verdict and for the accused to be acquitted; it takes a lifetime even to approach Christlikeness. (paragraph editing mine)

John Stott, Your Confirmation, rev. edn. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1991), 38.

HT: Langham Partnership


His Righteousness

Righteousness: Being Right With God

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight.

Rom. 1:16-17 NLT

When we look to Christ in faith and believe that his death was our death, and that his punishment was our judgment, and that his blood shed is our forgiveness, we receive by God’s grace his righteousness. This righteous declaration is forensic in that the legal charges against us have been dropped and we are declared in right standing with God. To be credited as righteous is to be conferred a legal standing of being forgiven and no longer liable to punishment.

Justification is an immediate work of God in which he forgives our sins, counts Christ’s righteousness as our own, and declares us righteous in his sight. Christ’s righteousness is not only declared to be our righteousness in heaven, but this righteousness also transforms our life here on earth. The Reformation tradition is unwavering: the imputed righteousness of Christ is a free gift; it cannot be earned. It can only be received from a grateful heart by faith alone

Righteousness apart from the law; righteousness apart from human doings; righteousness apart from man’s deserving; righteousness given freely to those who do not desire it. Righteousness streaming from the heart of God because of the nature of His being. This is the theme of the Word of God. Look into your own heart and see whether you are trusting, even in a small fraction, in something that you are doing for yourself, or that you are doing for God, instead of finding that you have ceased from your works, and are resting on the righteous work that was accomplished on the cross of Calvary.

Righteousness that you must choose by abandoning any hope of salvation from anything that is in yourself, or could produce by yourself; God’s own righteousness, and the only righteousness that can produce practical righteousness in you.

Donald Grey Barnhouse, “Righteousness Without the Law,” in Daily Thoughts from Keswick: A Year’s Daily Readings, ed., Herbert F. Stevenson (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980), 364.

Forgiven of Who We Are


But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:4-5).

“The Majesty of God’s Forgiveness”

The majesty of God’s forgiveness is lost entirely when we lose what has to be forgiven. What has to be forgiven is not just what we do but who we are, not just our sinning but our sinfulness, not just our choices but what we have chosen in place of God. . . . When we miss the biblical teaching, we also miss the nature of God’s grace in all its height and depth. In biblical faith it is God’s grace through Christ that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

David F. Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2008), 167.

HT: Of First Importance

Did the Pope Really Say What I Think He Said?

Sola Fide

On Wednesday, November 19, 2008, during Pope Benedict’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope made the most remarkable statement:

That is why Luther’s expression, sola fide, is true if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love. That is why, in the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul develops above all his doctrine on justification; he speaks of faith that operates through charity (cf. Galatians 5:14).

Read whole document.

In the Roman Catholic Church, this is the Year of the Apostle Paul. Pope Benedict XVI during this weekly audience is teaching the faithful about Paul’s life, mission, and theology. This particular Wednesday audience focused on the Apostle Paul’s understanding of justification. Simply, justification is the biblical teaching on how we are made right with God.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Rom 5:1-2 ESV).

In a most extraordinary declaration, Pope Benedict XVI not only expounded the Apostle Paul’s understanding of justification, but also, he agreed with Martin Luther’s interpretation of that doctrine.

Martin Luther’s views have long been a point of conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Luther’s focus on sola fide, faith alone (as opposed to faith and works) as the instrument by which we are granted right standing with God has long been a source of contention between these two great bodies of believers.

Baptist theologian, Wayne Grudem explains:

A right understanding of justification is absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith. Once Martin Luther realized the truth of justification by faith alone, he became a Christian and overflowed with the new-found joy of the gospel. The primary issue in the Protestant Reformation was a dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over justification. If we are to safeguard the truth of the gospel for future generations, we must understand the truth of justification. Even today, a true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works.

[Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 722.]

Justification by faith alone is the seminal Protestant doctrine: Luther stated that it is by this great doctrine that the Reformation stands or falls. Justification is God’s acceptance of me, a believer to be in right standing with him by the righteousness of Jesus Christ being credited to me a sinner. Christ’s righteousness is accounted to me by faith when I trust in the finished work on the Cross. To be credited as righteous is to be conferred the legal standing of Christ’s sinlessness. This theological truth is called imputation. This imputation is twofold: we receive Christ’s holiness and forgiveness and Christ takes upon himself our guilt and judgment. The imputed righteousness of Christ is a gift; it cannot be earned. Christ’s righteousness can only be received from a grateful heart by faith alone.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 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. (Gal 2:15-16 ESV).

I recognize that Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians officially signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification on Sunday, October 31, 1999, which agreed between the two great churches to a common understanding of justification. The official signing ceremony was held in Augsburg, the date that Protestantism annually observes as Reformation Day. However, I was never impressed by this document: several important theological problems were not addressed and many of the key terms used in the document could be defined differently as each signing party desired. Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. brilliantly analyzes these concerns in his essay, “Two Languages of Salvation” which was published in First Things journal shortly after the signing. My observation is that two parties agreed to the document, but they meant two different things when writing the same words. “The Joint Declaration, helpful though it is, has not overcome all difficulties. More theological work is needed” (Avery Cardinal Dulles).

This is why last Wednesday was theologically important-Pope Benedict XVI stated clearly that he agreed with Martin Luther’s understanding of justification by faith alone and he said so without ambiguity. Yes, here is a small caveat about faith alone not opposing charity. However, Martin Luther’s favorite verse was, “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Last Wednesday was a theologically significant day for me and for all believers who desire to observe once again the visible unity of Christ’s Church (John 17: 20-21).

Yes, the Pope really did say what I think he said.

Gospel-Driven Sanctification

Our Acceptance Before God

Our day-to-day acceptance with Father is not based on our performance, but based on Christ’s performance on the Cross.

Gradually over time, and from a deep sense of need, I came to realize that the gospel is for believers, too. When I finally realized this, every morning I would pray over a Scripture such as Isaiah 53:6,” All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” and then say, “Lord, I have gone astray. I have turned to my own way, but you have laid all my sin on Christ and because of that I approach you and feel accepted by you.”

I came to see that Paul’s statement in Galatians 2:20, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me,” was made in the context of justification (see Gal. 2: 15-21). Yet Paul was speaking in the present tense: “The life I now live ….” Because of the context, I realized Paul was not speaking about his sanctification but about his justification. For Paul, then, justification (being declared righteous by God on the basis of the righteousness of Christ) was not only a past-tense experience but also a present-day reality.

Paul lived every day by faith in the shed blood and righteousness of Christ. Every day he looked to Christ alone for his acceptance with the Father. He believed, like Peter (see 1 Pet. 2:4-5), that even our best deeds–our spiritual sacrifices–are acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ. Perhaps no one apart from Jesus himself has ever been as committed a disciple both in life and ministry as the Apostle Paul. Yet he did not look to his own performance but to Christ’s “performance” as the sole basis of his acceptance with God.

So I learned that Christians need to hear the gospel all of their lives because it is the gospel that continues to remind us that our day-to-day acceptance with the Father is not based on what we do for God but upon what Christ did for us in his sinless life and sin-bearing death. I began to see that we stand before God today as righteous as we ever will be, even in heaven, because he has clothed us with the righteousness of his Son. Therefore, I don’t have to perform to be accepted by God. Now I am free to obey him and serve him because I am already accepted in Christ (see Rom. 8:1). My driving motivation now is not guilt but gratitude.

Jerry Bridges, “Gospel-Driven Sanctification” Modern Reformation Magazine (May/June, Vol. 12, No. 3, 2003),13-16.