Justification and Sanctification: The Theological and
Practical relationship Between the Two Doctrines

Jason Dulle

Introduction · Justification · Sanctification · Relationship Between Justification and Sanctification


Many Christians struggle between two seemingly contradictory teachings of the Scripture. On the one hand the Scripture clearly affirms the grace and forgiveness of God toward those who believe, and on the other hand affirms the absolute need for holy living. Some have come to the conclusion that grace and holiness, or justification and sanctification are antithetical. Holiness is either viewed negatively as mere suggestions that can be disregarded in the face of grace, or grace is viewed negatively as an open door to irresponsible, sinful behavior, taking God's forgiveness to mean that believers can sin as they please with no consequences. Both of these views are unbiblical and will cause spiritual, practical, and possibly even eternal problems.

Is there a balanced understanding that one can take between an insistence on grace and good works? Is there a way to insist on justification and sanctification simultaneously? The author is convinced that there is. All theologies which create a dichotomy between justification and good works are the result of a misguided reading of Scripture. Not only is the believer justified, but he is also commanded to live right, and given the power to do so. In this paper we will examine the doctrines of justification and sanctification, and then demonstrate how the two doctrines can be synthesized both theologically, and practically in the every day experience of the believer.

Importance of Doctrine

Christian faith involves both an objective and a subjective element. Faith involves both the head and the heart. Not only does it have an object (Jesus Christ), but it also has a content (doctrine). The doctrine of justification and sanctification are extremely important for the faith and experience of the believer. Christianity is a truth that is experienced, and believed/confessed with the hearth/mouth. Truth and doctrine are not mere abstract propositions to be known or confessed. Truth and error both affect the Christian life; the former for the better and the latter for the worse.

Understanding the functional importance of doctrine to the Christian life will allow one to see the practical importance of a theological study such as this. Doctrine is not abstract conceptual truths that are to believed apart from experience, but the attempt to preserve the experience of Christianity from being twisted through a twisted misunderstanding of the experience. Doctrine has a living reality and experience behind it. It tells us about the spiritual realities that are the basis of our faith/life.

Doctrine and experience are connected. Doctrine gives us the bounds for which to interpret experience. Doctrine captures and explains the essence of our experience. Most of Paul's epistles were taken up with explaining what happened to believers when they experienced redemption in Christ, and what that meant to them in on a practical level. The doctrine of justification and sanctification are important to set bounds for interpreting our experience of salvation. The doctrines answer the questions, "What does it mean to be saved?", and "How does my salvation affect my everyday walk with God?". If these doctrines are not understood, our perception of our salvation, and the way we approach God could be severely distorted to our spiritual detriment.

Justification and sanctification are not just doctrines, but doctrines with an existential effect. The doctrine of justification by faith is not a mere formula or treatise, but is an attempt to put a spiritual experience and reality into human words. It is an attempt to encase our experience in a transmittable form, and in a way that is conceivable in a physical world. It is a picture of what happened spiritually when we believed on Christ. The doctrine of justification in particular explains the 'how' and 'what' of salvation. It tells us what happened to us at salvation, and how this encounter with Jesus Christ could transform our lives. When we understand these doctrines, our lives will be changed. Paul noted that our justification brings us peace with God (Romans 5:1). The examination of these doctrines is to produce the fruit of understanding in regards to God's disposition towards us, and our disposition towards Him.


Definition of Terms/Concepts

The doctrine of justification by faith has lost much of its relevance to our American culture, not because the doctrine itself has become irrelevant, but because the Biblical language used to describe the doctrine is foreign to modern ears. The Biblical doctrine is encased with legal language (forensic) such as "justify," "righteous," and "imputation." As a result an examination of the key terms of this doctrine are in order.

In our culture 'righteousness' implies absolute and perfect moral perfection. The Biblical concept of righteousness, while recognizing this aspect, has primary reference to relationship.

In the OT, the Hebrew word translated "righteous" or "just" is saddiq, which originally carried the idea "to be straight," and came to refer to "conformity to an ethical standard."1 In the hiphil form the word was used in a forensic sense, meaning "to declare righteous" or "to justify."2 This righteousness is not an earned or imparted ethical righteousness, but a declaratory judgment of God on the believing sinner. Many OT references confirm the forensic nature of righteousness (See Exodus 23:7; Deuteronomy 25:1; I Kings 8:32; Job 32:2; Psalm 51:4; Isaiah 1:18; 5:23; 53:11; Zechariah 3:1-5). Just as a judge's verdict of guilt does not make an individual guilty, God's pronouncement of innocence on the believer does not make them ethically righteous, but only affects their standing before the law and the law-giver.

Although the concept of righteousness in our culture has come to refer almost strictly to ethical and moral conduct, this is not the primary referent in the OT. Righteousness does produce ethical and moral conduct, and can be found in such, but the OT concept of righteousness is essentially the "fulfillment of the demands and obligations of a relationship between two persons."3 Under the Mosaic covenant, Israel related to God on the basis of Moses' Law. One's righteousness was judged upon their conformity to this Law, through which they related to YHWH. If they kept the Law, which consisted of many non-moral commands, they were considered righteous (in right relationship) before YHWH. When one broke God's Law, they were in essence betraying the relationship between them and YHWH. This is the essence of sin.4

To demonstrate that the OT concept of righteousness has more to do with relationship than with morality, two examples will be cited. In Genesis 38 we find the story of Judah and Tamar. Tamar was Judah's daughter-in-law. She was married to Judah's eldest son, Er, but he was killed by the Lord (Genesis 38:7). Tamar was then given to the second eldest brother, Onan, to wed. He too was killed by the Lord (38:10). The only son left was Shelah, but he was too young to be given to Tamar in marriage. Judah told Tamar to go to her father's house until Shelah was of age, and promised that at that time Shelah would be given to her in marriage (38:11). When Shelah became of age Judah did not keep his promise to give him to Tamar in marriage, so Tamar devised a scheme to get back at Judah. She dressed herself as a harlot in a nearby city and her ex-father-in-law, not knowing who she was, had sexual relations with her. Since he did not have any payment with him for her services, he gave her his signet ring, staff, and bracelets until he could come back with payment. After Judah left Tamar took off her harlot clothes and left the city. Judah did send back payment, but Tamar (unbeknownst to Judah) had fled. Three months later it was told Judah that Tamar was with child. Judah's fury was full and demanded that she be burnt for playing the harlot. When she arrived she claimed that she knew the father of the child, publicly displaying Judah's ring, bracelets, and staff. Judah, realizing his error, said, "She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son" (38:26).

If we were judging righteousness purely on moral grounds, neither Judah nor Tamar could be said to be righteous. When it is understood that righteousness refers to relationship, however, this story makes sense. Tamar's righteousness was not in her act of harlotry, but in the fact that she met the demands and obligations of the relationship between Judah and herself, whereas Judah went back on his word.

The second example is that of Abraham. God promised Abraham that his seed would be as innumerable as the stars and the sand of the sea. Abraham believed God's word, and God counted this toward Abraham as righteousness (Genesis 15:1-6). Abraham did no righteous act but was considered righteous because he entered into a relationship with God based on his trust in God's word.

In the NT, the terms "righteousness" and "justify" are all derived from the same root word, dikaio. The former is the translation of the noun form, while the latter is the translation of the verbal form. The meaning of the various forms of dikaio are similar to the meaning of their Hebrew counterpartóthey all pertain to the concept of declaring someone to be right, or of being in a right relationship with another party.

A similar meaning is to be found in the etymology of the English word righteousness. It originally meant right-wise-ness, or "to be right" with someone or something. One who is righteous is one who is in a right relationship with someone, or to something else.

Righteousness and justification in the NT also refer to a forensic reckoning of God on the account of the believer. The forensic nature of righteousness shines forth in several NT passages (Matthew 11:19; 12:37; Luke 7:29; 10:29; 16:15; 18:9-14; Acts 13:39; Romans 2:13; 3:20; 4:3). In Romans 4 Paul uses the term logizomai eleven times in connection with righteousness. This Greek word is an accounting term which refers to the crediting of something to an account. It means to consider, to count towards, or to credit to one's account. The believer has God's righteousness credited to his account and thus is considered to be in a right relationship to God's law. God is portrayed as the King who oversees the righteous conduct of the land. Instead of receiving the wrath of the Law-giver for not keeping the law of the kingdom, the believer is acquitted from all guilt and condemnation. Even this forensic aspect of righteousness pertains to relationship. A believer is considered to be in right standing with the law; a decision handed down by the Law-giver Himself.

In a wider sense the NT concept of righteousness is that of relationship, and attempts to explain how human beings can enter into a right relationship with God. Like saddiq, the root dikaio does not have its primary referent as ethical and moral conduct, but such is implied in various contexts. It could be said that moral conduct is the logical outflow of a right relationship with God and His law.

The Need For Justification

Our understanding of the justification is highly dependent on our understanding of God and the nature of sin. Before we can truly examine the doctrine of justification, we must first understand the human need for God's justification as it pertains to God's holiness and man's sinfulness.

God is a holy and just God, who cannot tolerate sin (Leviticus 11:45; Deuteronomy 32:4; II Kings 23:26; Isaiah 30:27-31; Lamentations 3:42). His holiness sets the standard of the law, while his justness demands that His law be obeyed. If His law is not obeyed, punishment must be meted out. God cannot excuse evil because such an action would be tantamount to the approval of evil, which is contrary to His holy character. In order to preserve justice from being mocked, our sin must be objectively punished. God cannot simply change our verdict from "Guilty" to "Not guilty."5

God's law is not some arbitrary list of do's and don'ts that are inflicted upon people for law's sake. Godís zeal for His law is due to the nature of the Lawgiver. He does not simply decide to approve this and condemn that. Rather Godís law flows from His nature. It is a portrait of His person. When we obey Godís law, we are not merely keeping a code of conduct, but relating to God Himself. The law has no inherent value or dignity apart from God. When we keep or break Godís law we are relating to God Himself.6 Sin is not merely the breaking of a law, but transgressing against the very nature of God, thus creating a personal attack on God Himself.7 Breaking Godís law, then, hinders the relationship between us and Him.

Because of Adamís sin in the Garden of Eden, mankind is in a place of spiritual separation from God. As a result of Adam, all of mankind is in a state of spiritual death, condemnation, and judgment (Romans 5:12-21). Isaiah testified that our iniquities have separated us from God, and our sins cause Him to hide His face from us (Isaiah 59:2). Paul demonstrated the utter sinfulness of all men, declaring that there are none who are righteous who will seek after God, but all men have turned aside from Him (Romans 3:1-12). The natural result of our spiritual state is death (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-3). The only deliverance from this condition is the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Apart from Godís manifestation of love in Christís death, the only manifestation of God we would expect from God is the manifestation of His wrath. In order to avoid this wrath of God, our relationship with God must be changed. We have a need to be reconciled to God, i.e. brought back into a right relationship with God that we lost in Adam.

Nature of Justification

Justification involves a change in our status and relationship with God. There is both a forensic pronouncement of God's righteousness on the believer which changes his status before God and His Law, and a relational change between God and the believer.

From the forensic perspective justification is a divine acquittal from the guilt of sin. The Pauline concept of justification is characteristically forensic in nature. Paul depicts sinners as those who have not lived up to the standards of God's law, and are therefore subject to the Judge's holy and just wrath. In justification God changes the believer's status before God and His Law from guilty to innocent. The believer is justified in the sight of the Law. They are no longer the objects of God's wrath, but the recipient of a right-standing before the law.

God's righteousness is an alien righteousness imputed to the believer, not imparted. It is an external righteousness, not an internal righteousness. God imputes to us Christ's righteousness, thus our righteousness is something which happens outside of us.8 It cannot be gained by any external human work, however. It does not come from an external obedience to a set of laws, but by faith in Christ. Paul declared his desire to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, which came by the law, but the righteousness which comes from God and is received by faith (Philippians 3:9). Such a righteousness is not an inherent righteousness earned by the saint, but an alien righteousness that is credited to our account.

Justification is something which we obtain, not something which we must attain. It is a past, completed reality. We do not strive to continue to be justified. God has made a legal pronouncement of innocence on our behalf. Justification is a declaration of the Christian's righteousness, not the process of becoming righteous. It speaks of our status before God, not our nature.9

According to Paul, God justifies the ungodly:

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. Ö God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Ö Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:6, 8-10).

This Pauline concept is in stark contrast to the Jewish concept of justification. To the Jew one would be justified if at the end of his life his good works were more numerous than his evil works. Paul's insistence that God justifies the ungodly would have been quite shocking to his Jewish audience. It would seem that the guilty should get what they deserve, i.e. wrath. Instead, God declares the ungodly to be innocent of their ungodly deeds through their faith in Christ's work on their behalf. Paul, to defend God's justness in acquitting the guilty, argued that one can never be justified on the basis of their good works because all humanity's works are imperfect (Romans 3:9-18). Neither can humanity be acquitted based on the obedience to certain laws, because law serves to define sin and guilt (Romans 3:19-20). God's righteousness comes apart from law, through faith in Christ's atoning death (Romans 3:21-22, 24). It is Christ's atonement which allows God to be just in forgiving the sins of the ungodly. God made Christ a propitiation for sin (Romans 3:25). The Greek word for "propitiation," hilasterios, means "the place of atonement." The propitiation was the God-man. Christ turned away God's wrath from humanity, appeasing his holy and just anger against sin. Having dealt with the legal and just punishment for sin, in Christ, God was shown to be just in declaring the ungodly to be righteous through their faith (Romans 3:26).

Earlier it was noted that the Biblical concept of righteousness is not merely forensic in nature, but pertains to meeting the demands of a relationship between two parties. Part of the work of justification, then, involves the rectification of a personal relationship with God.10 Our sins have separated us from this fellowship, but His righteousness is given to us so that we can once again have communion together. Justification is that which establishes our relationship with God. It gives us an assurance of our acceptance before Him. Being justified we do not need to wonder if God has rejected us because of our evil works. We know that God accepts Christ and His works, and by virtue of our union with Christ He accepts us also.

In Romans 4:1-8 Paul emulated two OT characters to explain the nature of justifying faith: Abraham, David. Abraham believed God and He credited (logizomai) it to Abraham for righteousness (Romans 4:3; c.f. Genesis 15:6). This righteousness was not gained by human works, but by God's grace: "Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:4-5). Only when we cease working for our justification can we truly receive justification. Paul made a similar point when speaking of the reason the Jews did not attain to righteousness, but the Gentiles did. He said the reason was "because they [Jews] did not seek it by faith, but by the works of the law" (Romans 9:32).

David also described the kind of righteousness which God imputes to people apart from law observance (Romans 4:6). He said, "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" (Romans 4:7-8; Psalm 32:1-2). Justification, then, involves both a positive and negative aspect. Negatively God does not hold our sin against us, but forgives us from our wrong-doing. Positively God imputes Christ's righteousness to our account.

Romans 10:1-4 also elucidates to us the nature of justification. Paul speaks of a lack of faith on the part of Israel. They had a zeal for God and wanted to be holy before Him, but their understanding of the relationship between faith and works was misconstrued. They were ignorant of the righteousness that God gives by faith in Him, and thus they went about trying to establish their own righteousness. This righteousness was based on strict law-keeping. In doing so, they failed to submit to the righteousness of God. They were very righteous in terms of moral conduct, but they did not attain to God's righteousness because their faith was in their conduct rather than in God Himself.

There have been two primary and competing views of justification: Catholic, Protestant. These two views will be explained, compared, and contrasted below.

Catholic View

The Catholic view of justification is derived primarily from Augustine. Augustine, not knowing Hebrew or Greek, only had the Latin translation at his disposal. The Latin term for the Greek root dikaio is iustifacare. This is a compound word from iustus=righteous, and facare=to do or to make. Augustine took the word at face value and falsely concluded that it meant "to make righteous."

Catholics see justification as beginning at baptism and being fully given by means of the sacraments throughout one's life, and one's good works. To the Catholic, righteousness is intrinsic (imparted) to the believer. Good works are not motivated by the self, but by Holy Spirit.

The Catholic conception of justification contains both the Protestant understanding of justification and sanctification combined together. Although justification is seen to be contingent upon, and merited by good works, Catholic theology does not believe that God is obligated to reward good works (condign merit), but rather that it is appropriate for Him to do so (congruous merit).

Protestant View

The Catholic view of justification reigned supreme until the fall of Constantinople in A.D. 1453. It was at this time that the Greek monks fled from the East for the West, bringing hundreds of Greek texts with them. This was the time of the Renaissance in which the cry of the scholars was ad fontus, i.e. back to the sources. As Greek and Hebrew revived their importance in the West, students of the Bible were able to read the Bible in its original languages for the first time. It then became evident that Augustine misunderstood the Biblical concept of righteousness and justification. The Hebrew saddiq and Greek root dikaio did not mean "to make righteous," but "to consider one to be right." This discovery was part of the catalyst for the Reformation movement which would change the course of history some sixty years later.

The Protestant view of justification, derived from Hebraic and Greek terminology, is that the sinner is considered to be righteous based on the substitutionary death of Christ. Christ's righteousness is counted as though it was the believer's righteousness. In this view justification is external to the believer, being a mere legal pronouncement of a right relationship with God. The believer's righteousness is an alien righteousness, i.e. it does arise from within the believer, but is external to him. The believer is not made righteous in justification, but has Christ's righteousness imputed to his/her account as though it was truly his/hers. The internal aspect of salvation is left to the work of regeneration and sanctification, being conceptually distinct from justification.

One of the hallmarks of Protestant orthodoxy was Luther's teaching that the believer was simul iustus et peccator, or righteous and a sinner at one and the same time. Because the believer's righteousness is not an inherent righteousness, or an ethical righteousness, but an external pronouncement of God's approval of the sinner which brings Him into a right relationship to God, the sinner remains a sinner. At the same time, however, because the sinner is also justified in the sight of God, he is also a saint. The believer is not made righteous, so will still struggle with his sinful nature. Believers are both sinners and saints simultaneously.


The Catholic and Protestant conceptions of justification have many differences, but also have some similarities. Both believe that justification is provided by God, and based solely on the substitutionary death of Christ. Where they disagree is on how righteousness is appropriated to the believer (means of conferral).

Catholics see righteousness as an inherent possession of the believer, while Protestants understand justification to be an external legal pronouncement of God on the believer which has no bearing on the nature of his spirit. In Protestant thought righteousness is imputed, not imparted; alien, not internal (Philippians 3:9). Catholics see God accepting them because He sees righteousness in them. Protestants see God accepting them because He sees Christ's righteousness in them. Christ's righteousness is considered theirs, and God sees them as He sees Christ.

While many of the differences between Catholics and Protestants were genuine conceptual differences, some were the result of misunderstanding the language both parties were using. Alister McGrath explains this saying:

It will therefore be obvious that the Roman Catholic understands by "justification" what the Protestant understands by "justification" and "sanctification" linked together. The same word is used by bothóbut it has a different meaning in each case. This has led to enormous confusion. Consider the following two statements.

        1. We are justified by faith alone.
        2. We are justified by faith and works.

        Ö For the Protestant, statement A means that the Christian life is begun through faith, and faith aloneÖ. For the Roman Catholic, howeverÖstatement A means that the Christian life as a whole is begun and continued by faith alone, which seems to exclude any reference to regeneration or obedience. For the Roman Catholic, statement B means that the Christian life is begun in faith, but is continued and developed through obedience and good worksÖ. But the Protestantówho understands "justification" to refer only to the beginning of the Christian lifeówould regard this as a totally unacceptable doctrine of justification by works. In fact, there is general agreement between Protestant and Roman Catholic that the Christian life is begun through faith and continued and developed through obedience and good worksÖ.11

Both Catholics and Protestants are in agreement that justification is something that God does for us. It is not something that can be earned or merited apart from God's grace and motivating power within us. It is the nature of this justification and the means by which one receives Christ's righteousness which continues to be disagreed on.

Basis and Means of Justification

How is it that a believer is justified? When a person is acquitted by the law, he is acquitted on certain grounds and in a certain manner. What is the basis of the Christian's acquittal from sin?

Romans 3:19-25 is the most definitive passage on this subject. Here it will be seen that the source of our justification is God's grace; the grounds of our justification is Christ's sacrificial death; and we receive justification by means of faith.

Our justification has its origin in nothing other than the grace of God. It does not flow from any good work of our own, but from His favor towards us. We are "justified freely by his grace" (Romans 3:24).

The grounds of our justification is none other than the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. We are justified by God's grace "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). Without Christ's sacrificial death on our behalf there would be no justification for humanity. We are justified by His blood (Romans 5:9). Jesus' sinless life, freely given up in death on our behalf, provided the basis for our righteousness with God. Now, whether one stands before or after the cross, the basis for their justification is secure and God is shown to be righteous because He visited on sin the judgment it deserved.

While the grounds of our justification is Christ's death, and the source is God's grace, God's justification judicially becomes ours through our faith.

It must not be conceived that God justifies us because of our faith in Him. He justifies us by means of our faith. The difference between these two phrases may seem to be a mere striving over words, but the conceptual difference between the two is as stark as night and day. The former teaches that faith is a work of man that God rewards. God looks at the faith that we have mustered up and justifies us accordingly. This is a distortion of the Biblical idea of saving faith. God does not reward our decision to believe, or accept us on the basis of our faith. Faith is a gift of God's grace. Biblically speaking, justifying faith is passive, not active in nature. Justifying faith does not do anything, but passively accepts what Christ has done for us. We are not justified on account of our faith, but by means of our faith. To believe in the former is to make faith the grounds of our justification, rather than Christ and His atoning work at Calvary. For justification we simply believe what God has done for us, and receive Christ's righteousness. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. This justification did not come because Abraham believed, but was received through his faith (Romans 4:1-5). It can be said, then, that our justification is "by faith on account of Christ," not "on account of faith through Christ."12

The idea of accepting what Christ did for us by faith is at the heart of our justification. True faith in Christ is an acceptance of His work on our behalf. If we are to receive Jesus' righteousness we must renounce any confidence in our righteousness and rely entirely upon the perfect righteousness and death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Renouncing and relying are the two aspects of justifying faith.

Paul was very clear that our righteousness does not come via obedience to the Law of Moses, but by faith in Christ. In Galatians he boldly declared, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, even as we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faithfulness of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Galatians 2:16; See also 3:11). The Law could not give eternal life or right-standing with God. If it could, then righteousness would have come through the Law (Galatians 3:21). Instead, the Scripture has concluded that everyone is a sinner and stands in need of Christ. Christ's promises are only given to them who have faith (v. 22).

Paul's argument in Romans is very persuasive. After demonstrating that all men are sinners (Romans 1:1ó3:18) Paul argued that the Law serves to define sinners as who they are, thus bringing them condemnation. The Law serves to demonstrate the guilt and sin of every man (Romans 3:19-20), and is unable to justify humanity before a holy God (v. 20). God's righteousness was demonstrated apart from the Law (v. 22), based on Christ's atoning death, and faith in Him (vs. 24-26). This being so, Paul concluded "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28). Law only serves to define us as sinners and separate us from fellowship with a holy God. Faith is superior to Law because only faith can bring us into a right relationship to God.

Justified "In Christ"

Justification is a changing of our relationship with God. We receive a new position or status before Him. All of humanity has one of two positions in the sight of God. They are either unrighteous or righteous; condemned or justified; guilty or innocent. Which position one stands in before the sight of God is determined by their relationship with one of two individuals. Those who are in Adam are the unrighteous, condemned, and guilty, and thus have spiritual death working in them. Those who are in Christ are those who are the righteous, justified, and innocent, which have spiritual life working in them. It is by virtue of being in Christ that we are declared righteous. He has become "to us God's Ö righteousness (I Corinthians 1:30). We are the righteousness of God in Christ (II Corinthians 5:21).

This change of our status before God happens by virtue of our connection with the righteous Christ. When we are united with Christ we receive whatever is Christ's, and are considered to have performed what Christ performed. Whatever can be said of Christ can be said of us. Because Christ's work and merit is accrued to us by virtue of our being in Christ, God sees us as He sees Christ. He no longer sees us in Adam, or even in our own personal sin, but in Christ's righteousness and life. By virtue of our union with Christ we have been made acceptable to God, and can now rest in this fact.

In Romans 5:12-21 Paul argued that through Adam's sin humanity experienced spiritual death (5:12). Although the many died through Adam's transgression, the many also had the grace and gift of God multiplied to them through Christ (5:15). Whereas Adam brought the human race into a position of judgment, condemnation, and death, Christ brought to us justification, righteousness, and spiritual life (5:16-17). Just as Adam's one transgression brought all of humanity into a place of condemnation before God, so through Christ's one righteous act at Calvary He brought spiritual life for all people (5:18). Through Adam all were made sinners, and his sin reigned in death over all, but through Christ grace reigns through righteousness, and many will be made righteous (5:19, 21).

Christ's obedience secured righteousness and eternal life for all of those who would put their faith in Him. When we are born into Christ we become legally one with Christ in God's sight, partaking of Christ's obedience. All our responsibilities rest upon Him and all of His merit is accrued to us. Just as Adam's sin is charged to us without us having actually committed it in the flesh, so Christ's righteousness is as much ours as had we performed it ourselves. It is as though we were the ones who died on the cross. God sees the believer in Christ's merit, not one's own merit. This is so eloquently stated in II Corinthians 5:21 where Paul said, "For he made him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Jesus takes our sin upon Himself even though He did not commit the sin, while we take His righteousness upon ourselves even though we did not perform it.

God accepts us, not for who we are or what we have done or abstained from doing, but for who Christ is and our relationship with Him. Our justification is not based off of our goodness, but our relationship to Christ and His meritous righteousness. Now we live from our approval by God, not for approval from the same.

Eschatological Aspects of Justification

Justification is threefold in that the Bible speaks of it as having already occurred, as though it is presently occurring, and a future time at which we will be justified (glorification). It is a past event, a present reality, and a future hope. Our justification happened historically when we initially trusted in Christ's atonement for our sins and applied it to our lives (I Corinthians 6:11). Based on the historical reality of justification Paul declared that we have already been saved from God's wrath, and have a subsequent peace with God (Romans 5:1, 9). In one sense justification is a completed reality.

God continues to count us as righteous in the present, atoning for our current sins (Romans 3:26). Our justification is not forfeited when we sin. We remain in a right standing with God because of our union with Christ and His righteousness. Although God is displeased with our sin, all we must do to maintain a right relationship with God is repent of that sin which displeased Him. It is in this way that we continue to show our faith in God. It is this kind of faith that justifies. Our repentance does not earn us justification, but rather gives evidence of our faith in God's ability and purpose to forgive us (I John 1:9).

There is also a future aspect of justification. There is coming a day when we will be made righteous in our very nature. This will occur at our glorification (Romans 5:19; Galatians 5:5). Paul had this future acquittal of the believer in mind when he said, "Who will lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, and furthermore was raised again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Romans 8:33-34). These three aspects of justification provide for the whole spectrum of our lives. We need not worry about our standing with God. We are the righteousness of God in Christ.

What was so startling to Jews about the NT concept of justification is that it does not limit justification to the future, but speaks of it as a past and present reality. The Jews, understanding the eschatological aspect of justification to it to such an extent that they believed that one is not justified in this life, but only in the life to come. If one's good deeds outweighed their bad deeds at the end of their life, God would pronounce them just. Paul's theology changed the Jewish believers' conception of justification by moving it from a strictly futuristic verdict to a present reality. What God does with us, then, is pronounce us as just during this life, before the judgment. He imputes to us presently the status that we will enjoy eschatologically, as though it were already an objective reality. We are now enjoying the status which God has ordained for us in the future. Ladd explained this Pauline emphasis in the following manner:

An essential element in the salvation of the future age is the divine acquittal and the pronouncement of righteousness; this acquittal, justification, which consists of the divine absolution of sin, has already been effected by the death of Christ and may be received by faith here and now. The future judgment has thus become essentially a present experience. God in Christ has acquitted the believer; therefore he or she is certain of deliverance from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9) and no longer stands under condemnation (Rom. 8:1).13

The triune eschatological nature of justification is one of the primary differences between the Catholic and Protestant conception of justification. Protestants look back on the verdict as a completed historical reality (while recognizing the past and present aspects as well) while Catholics look forward to the completion of justification in the future, with a certain lack of security of their standing before God in this present life.

Paul and James on Justification

Some see a contradiction between Paul and James on the teaching of justification. Paul emphatically taught that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law while James argued that a man is justified by faith and works (James 2:14-26). Luther is such an individual who saw the two prophets' teachings to be in opposition. Insisting that Paul's view was correct, Luther belittled James's epistle, calling it an 'epistle of straw.' Such an approach to the two authors is not necessary. When the literary context of each other is examined it can be demonstrated that there is no contradiction. The key to understanding these two seemingly contradictory authors is to understand how each uses the terms justified, faith, and works. These words must be defined by their respective contexts.



Faith = genuine faith and reliance upon God for salvation. Faith = mental assent that could fail to affect oneís actions.
Works = works apart from faith that one believes are able to, or help save him. Works = works that can only be done through faith, which attest to genuine faith.
Justified = declared righteous by God because of your trust in Him for salvation. Justified = shown to be righteous as evidenced by your actions.14

Paul emphasized that we are saved by faith in Jesus, and not by our good works. James emphasized that the kind of faith that results in salvation will necessarily produce works that show evidence of that faith. Paul was concerned about people adding anything to faith that they believe is meritous for their salvation. James was concerned about people professing to have faith which is not really faith at all, but rather a lifeless mental-assent to Christ. It seems that James was attacking a distortion of Paul's teaching on justification, wherein faith is some dead orthodoxy with no corresponding behavioral changes. Even Paul found it necessary to fight against this distortion of his teaching on justification (Romans 3:8; 6:1, 15). James pointed out that if a person has genuine salvific faith, works will follow after him showing evidence of that faith. Abraham really did believe God, and his works evidenced that fact. If Abraham would have refused to offer Isaac upon the altar, it would have demonstrated a lack of faith in God's promises to him (James 2:21-24).

Justification is Not Legal Fiction

Some argue against forensic justification on the basis that such a "justification" is nothing more than legal fiction. Such an argument misunderstands the basis of our justification, and the nature of our righteousness. Surely God did not pardon us of our sins, but rather justified us from our sins. The difference is that a pardon bypasses justice, but justification involves meeting the demands of the law for sin.

If justification was based on the works of man then truly we could say that God's pronouncement of us as righteousness is a false and misleading pronouncement, because we are not righteous in and of ourselves. But God's forgiveness in justification is based on the redemption of Christ. Christ paid for the penalty of sins. Justice has not been bypassed, but has met by Christ's willing sacrifice of Himself in our stead for our sins. Jesus bore our judgment at Calvary so we can be righteous in God's sight. In Christ, God's wrath against sin has been appeased, turning away the wrath we should have borne. When God declares us to be righteous, He is not calling us something we really are not. He declares us righteous upon the real, accomplished righteousness of Jesus, which has been credited to our account by faith in Him.

The second reason one may view the Protestant concept of justification as legal fiction is because they confuse justification as an ethical quality rather than a legal pronouncement of God on the sinner. Second Corinthians 5:21 teaches us that God made Christ to be sin for us, even though He did not know sin, so that we could be made the righteousness of God in Christ. God did not just treat Christ as if He was a sinner (ethically), but made Him to be sin for us forensically. Likewise, then, God does not merely treat us as though we were righteous, but makes us righteous in terms of our relationship with God (forensically).15 This is no legal fiction, but a legal righteousness. We are not given an ethical righteousness anymore than Christ was made an ethical sinner. The righteousness we receive in justification is not an ethical quality, but a forensic pronouncement on the sinner because of his faith in Christ and His righteousness. Ethical righteousness comes via sanctification, not justification.

When the Doctrine of Justification is Lost

The average Christian is often ignorant of, misunderstands, or does not live out the doctrine of justification on a daily, practical level. Many who do understand the doctrine do not see a practical need for it to be lived out on a daily basis because they have minimized God's utter holiness and the severity of human sinfulness, or because their commitment to the doctrine is in intellectual profession only. While they confess to believe the doctrine, on the daily level they rely on their level of sanctification to inform their position before God, drawing their assurance of God's acceptance of them from their sincerity, past experiences, or relatively good obedience record.16 Relying on human achievement causes difficulty in regards to the human conscience which will not be pacified by these good works, continuing to cry out, "Guilty, guilty, guilty," realizing that even the best of our good works fall short of God's perfection. Without a thorough understanding and application of the doctrine of justification to our daily lives, the conscience will be forced into self-deception by either manufacturing a "fictitious righteousness in heroic works of ascetic piety," or by redefining "sin in shallow terms so that it can lose the consciousness of its presence."17 The only way to avoid such self-deception is to confess our utter sinfulness, God's utter holiness, and our need for His Spirit to save us, and make us righteous.


The doctrine of justification states that we possess Christ's righteousness. Although this righteousness which we possess is a true righteousness, it is an alien righteousness. God has willed for us to be given this judicial standing of righteousness, but He has also willed for us to be made righteous in our nature. Millard Erickson said "sanctification is a process by which one's moral condition is brought into conformity with one's legal status before God."18 Sanctification is becoming in actuality what we have already been declared to be in justification. Such a description is befitting of the Biblical data.

Sanctification and holiness are near equivalents theologically. Both words in their various forms are translated from the same Hebrew root meaning to "cut" or "separate," and the Greek word hagiasmos, meaning "consecration." The core concept of holiness, then, is separation and consecration to God (Leviticus 11:44). In our culture sanctification has come to mean the pursuit of moral perfection. Although the latter is included in the Biblical concept of sanctification, it is a corollary to the idea of separation. Sanctification results in morality, but sanctification is not tantamount to morality. God is said to be holy because He is separate from creation and is morally pure in contradistinction to sin.

That the Biblical concept of holiness is not primarily morality is evident. The use of the Hebrew word qadash in II Kings 23:7 demonstrates the true nature of the Hebrew root. It is said that Josiah "broke down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the LORD.Ö" The word translated "sodomites" is qadash. The sodomites that lived beside the temple were for the purpose of sexual intercourse with those who came to worship. They are said to be holy because they were separated to the service of temple prostitution.

Sanctification has both a negative and positive aspect. Negatively it is separation from evil, and positively it is consecration to God and His holy character. It might be said that sanctification is the "growing emancipation from all evil, growing enrichment in all good."19 Often in holiness movements the negative aspect of holiness is stressed over the positive aspect, or to its near exclusion. The holiness and wrath of God are stressed, along with the need for personal holiness and piety through prayer, Bible reading, witnessing, obedience to God's commands, and avoiding the socially unacceptable behaviors on the master-sin-list of the local church. When sanctification is approached from this perspective holiness is changed from the pursuit of the character of God, to mere avoidance behavior.20 Sanctification goes from being a responsible joy of the believer to a necessary precaution to avoid the wrath of God and the condemnation of the church. Such a perspective of sanctification turns redemption into control and legalism.

The Scriptures clearly indicate that believers are to pursue holiness, which involves moral uprightness. Peter urged the church to holiness, quoting God's own command, "Be holy, for I am holy" (I Peter 1:15-16; cf. Leviticus 20:7). Paul urged the Corinthians to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (II Corinthians 7:1). We were chosen to be holy (Ephesians 1:4). The author of Hebrews sternly warned his Jewish audience that holiness is an essential requirement for those who wish to see God (Hebrews 12:14). We are not to love the world: the lusts of the flesh, lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:15-16). Holiness not only concerns our outward actions, but also affects our spirit (II Corinthians 7:1), mind (Romans 12:1-2), and thoughts (Philippians 4:8-9).

The goal of the Christian life is to be transformed into the image of Christ (II Corinthians 3:18), into His likeness (Romans 8:29), to the measure of the stature of Christ's fullness (Ephesians 4:13), to put on the new man created in righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24), and be partakers of God's holiness (Hebrews 12:10). Sanctification is the process of restoring of the image of God in man (Colossians 3:10).

Various Views

There have been several views of sanctification propagated during the history of the church. Here is a brief description of the more prominent views.


The doctrine of Pelagianism is derived from Pelagius, an astute ascetic who lived during the late fourth century and early fifth centuries. Pelagius's view of sanctification/ salvation arose from his particular view of hamartiology. Based on his belief in the special creation of each soul by God, he did not believe that man was born inherently sinful through Adam, but that each person was created free from sin and guilt just as Adam was created in righteousness. We only become sinners when we commit our first sin, but still will not possess a natural bias toward sin. Because we are morally responsible, any sin committed by the Christian is committed by free choice, apart from any unbridled evil passions of the will.

Although Pelagius confessed that sanctification must come by the grace of God, his definition of grace was that of an external aid given by God to illuminate to us our need for holiness, not an internal working of God's Spirit.21 Sanctification, then, comes by the effort of men and their will, unaided by a divine inner-working of God's Spirit.

Purgatorical View

Catholicism maintains that it is possible to be entirely sanctified in this life. One is sanctified by obedience to God's law coupled with grace/faith. If one passes out of this life with sins still on their account they must pass through the purifying fires of purgatory to complete their sanctification. Purgatory, then, is an intermediate place between earth and heaven where the saved dead go to purify their souls from venial sins before entering the holy presence of God. The duration and severity of the purifying depends on the severity of one's sins.22 Time in purgatory can be lessened by special masses, prayers, and alms of the church.

The purgatorical view does not have much to commend it seeing that there is no real Biblical warrant for such a belief in purgatory. The belief is drawn from weak Scriptural statements, the Apocrypha, and the writings of Origen (II Maccabees 12:46; Matthew 5:26; 12:32; I Corinthians 3:11-15). The Scriptures indicate that at death one's spirit goes to heaven or to hell, depending on their relationship with God at the point of death, not an intermediate place of torment to cleanse them from all sin (Luke 23:43; II Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:20-23).


Luther understood sanctification to be getting used to our justification. One of the hallmarks of the Lutheran theology of sanctification is his teaching that man is both sinner and saint simultaneously. There is always a dual tension in the life of the believer between these two identities. The law of God and the grace of God are dichotomies, opposed to one another. The law of God reveals God's holiness and our sinfulness, while the grace of God saves us.


Sanctification is viewed as both a past reality and present progress. In Reformed theology the basis of our sanctification is our union with Christ (I Corinthians 1:30). We draw our sanctification from Christ's perfect sanctification, and our union with His person. When we are joined to Christ the dominion of sin is broken (Romans 6:6), and our status to sin is changed. Reformed theology does not see a dichotomy between law and grace as did Luther, but sees the law of God as the guide for the justified.


Although conceptually distinct, the Wesleyan and Keswickian models of sanctification are so compatible that both shall be dealt with together.

Wesleyan sanctification teaches that there is a second work of grace that comes to the believer through a crisis experience, perfecting sanctification (entire sanctification). This grace will perfect the believer in love. John Wesley did not believe that a perfected believer could no longer sin, but rather that they would not sin. Although Wesley recognized that there were sins of ignorance and omission, on a practical level he defined sin purely in terms of volition. Sin is any voluntary act against a known law of God (I John 3:4). Perfection is not sinlessness, but an all encompassing change of life. It is a relative perfection which frees the Christian from willful transgressions against God's law, impure intentions, and pride by eradicating our sinful desires.

Wesley did not see sanctification as a once-for-all status, but in terms of an acquired attribute subsequent to conversion (thus a second work of grace). As did the Catholic church, Wesley blended the concepts of justification and sanctification into one, and thus taught that in order to keep one's justification they must continue in sanctification.

The Keswickian model is hybrid between Reformed and Wesleyan theology. It borrows its view of man's inherent sinfulness and the necessity of holiness growing out of our union with Christ from the former, and the idea of perfection from the latter. Keswick distinguishes between the normal, or carnal Christian and the victorious, or spiritual Christian. The former fail to live by the power of the Spirit, but are being controlled by the lusts of the flesh.23 The latter is the Christian who has a post-conversion crisis experience which catapults them into a life of victory over the sins of the flesh. Believers are responsible to appropriate Christ's victory to their lives, but many Christians live below the dignity of the Christ-filled life.

Keswickian theology, although it also defines a believer's sinlessness in terms of voluntary disobedience to a known law of God, also recognizes that there are sins of the heart and sins of omission. We will never attain sinless perfection until our death/ glorification because we are inherent sinners. The sin nature will never be eradicated in this life, but it is overwhelmed by the influence of the indwelling Spirit of God.24 There are, then, two levels of sin in Keswickian theology: theoretical, practical. When we do commit sin we are thrown out of fellowship with God. Since we can never please God in and of ourselves we must allow Christ to take over in our lives.


Evangelicals see a relationship between justification and sanctification, but distinguish them conceptually so that one's justification before God is not seen to be dependent on one's level of sanctification. Sanctification is positional and progressive. Borrowing from Luther, evangelicals maintain that man is both righteous and a sinner simultaneously. Man works with God to grow in holiness, by the grace of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) provides the following answer to the nature of sanctification which succinctly defines the evangelical view: "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."25

Eschatological Aspects of Sanctification

Sanctification is both a completed action and an ongoing process; positional and progressive. The Scripture speaks of us as having been sanctified in the past (I Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; Hebrews 10:10, 29; I Peter 1:1-2), and even calls us saints (holy ones). Christ is said to have become our sanctification (I Corinthians 1:30). When we placed our faith in Him we were sanctified, or set apart to Him and from those who do not believe (Acts 26:18). Sanctification, like justification, is not a work of human merit, but comes by faith in God.

That sanctification is also progressive is evident from several passages. We are currently being sanctified by the Lord (Hebrews 2:11; 10:14). Believers are to follow after holiness (Hebrews 12:14), and continually cleanse themselves of the filthiness of the flesh and spirit (II Corinthians 7:1). Believers are being made perfect in every good work by the Lord (Hebrews 13:21). Paul prayed that the Thessalonians would be sanctified completely and preserved blameless at the coming of the Lord (I Thessalonians 5:23), and assured the Philippian church that God would finish the work that He had begun in them (Philippians 1:6). Thus sanctification is an eschatological work as is justification, concerning our past, present, and future.

The Agent of Sanctification

What is the relationship between the activity of the Spirit and the activity of man in developing sanctification? Is sanctification received purely by faith, or is their human effort involved? The Scripture indicates that both grace and effort work together in sanctification. It is neither entirely passive nor entirely active, but both active and passive.

The Scripture is clear that sanctification is something we receive from God. The church is being sanctified by Jesus Christ so that He can present it to Himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:26-27). It is the God of peace that sanctifies us (I Thessalonians 5:23), and by His grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, living godly and sober lives (Titus 2:14). It is Christ which works in us that which pleases Him (Hebrews 13:20-21; See also II Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; II Thessalonians 2:13; Colossians 1:21). Paul told the Romans that they were to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. "Transformed" is a present passive, indicating that this was an action they were to passively receive, not one in which they were to actively pursue. Yet in the previous verse they were beseeched to present their bodies to God as a living sacrifice in holiness (Romans 12:1), and a few verse later were enjoined to hate evil and cling to that which is good (Romans 12:9). Believers are instructed to mortify the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13), and to yield ourselves to God in righteousness (Romans 6:13). These two Biblical perspectives are not contradictory, but rather complimentary. God puts the desire to live right within man, and gives Him the ability to do so, but man must act upon God's inner working to make it effective.

Many believers have attempted to make themselves holy purely in terms of human effort, self-denial, or the exercising of the human will. While these human elements are part of the process of sanctification, those who practice such have mistaken morality for true holiness, divorcing the work of the Spirit from the works of man. Such is the essence of legalism. Holiness is not achieved merely by the exercising of the human will, self-denial, or self-discipline, for even unregenerate people can do such; but holiness is achieved as the Spirit of God works His character and holiness into our lives, giving us the right desires and abilities so that we may be conformed to His image.26

Too often sanctification fails to be a cooperative effort between God and men, and the believer begins to work for his/her sanctification. Thus, many Christians' holiness is not holiness in the true sense of the word, but mere dead works, because they do not have God's holy Spirit working in them to accomplish the end goal. This form of "holiness" is little more than a dead, religious goodness, which has an ethical, moral, and social respectability motivated by the flesh, and not by the Spirit.27 It is often manifested in the unspoken doctrine of many church groups which says if you follow all the rules properly you will be O.K.

Is Perfection Possible?

Much of the debate in sanctification surrounds the idea of perfection. Is it possible to be entirely sanctified in this life, living completely above sin? The answer to this question has divided the Catholic, Wesleyan, Keswickian, and Pelagian theologies from Lutheranism, Reformed, and evangelical theologies. The Scripture seems to give conflicting viewpoints. On the one hand we are told by Jesus, "Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Paul said the ministry was given until we come to a perfect man (Ephesians 4:13), and even prayed that the Thessalonians would be sanctified wholly (I Thessalonians 5:23). Although one is tempted when drawn away by their own lusts (James 1:14-15), God always makes a way for us to escape falling into the sin which temptation brings before us (I Corinthians 10:13). The Apostle John even declared that the one abiding in Christ does not sin (I John 3:6), and indeed cannot sin (I John 3:9).

While John boldly declared that believers do not sin, he also declared in the same epistle, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (I John 1:8-10). Jesus, in the Lord's Prayer, told His disciples to pray, "Forgive us our sins" (Luke 11:4). In Romans 7 Paul used present tense verbs to describe his struggle with sinful desires, and even noted that he is, at times, overcome by them. He confessed that he is carnal and sold under sin (7:14), sin dwells in him (7:17, 20), no good thing dwells in his flesh (7:18), and that there is still a law of sin working in his members which wars against his mind which desires the good (7:21-23). Finally, Paul confessed that he had not yet attained to that which God had apprehended him for, but continued to strive toward the prize (Philippians 3:12-14).

Are these two viewpoints of Scripture antithetical? No. When the "perfection" Scriptures are understood in their context it can be seen that absolute moral perfection is not envisioned. Immediately after confessing that he had not yet attained (Philippians 3:12-14), Paul speaks of himself as being perfect (Philippians 3:15). The Greek teleios, translated as "perfect," refers to and end, completion, or maturity, not absolute perfection. When Jesus said to be perfect, He was not referring to moral perfection, but spiritual maturity. John's statement that believers do not, and indeed cannot sin must also be understood in its context. The Greek word poieo, translated "commit" is in the present tense. This is a customary, or habitual use of the present stressing a state of action that is regular and ongoing. Believers are not characterized by continual sinful behavior, but this does not mean that they never exhibit sinful behavior.

Romans 3:23 teaches us that not only have all sinned, but that all (including saints) fall short of Godís glory. "Fall short," or "come short" is also being used as an habitual present. Its syntactical force is that every human being continually falls short of Godís glory. This does not mean that we continually sin, but that none of us ever match up to Godís perfect standards. Our only hope is to stand in Christ's perfect sanctification.

We must conclude that the goal of the Christian life is spiritual maturity in this life, and moral perfection in the next. Although moral perfection is something to which we strive by the grace of God, we shall never attain sinless perfection in this life.

The Nature of Man's Sinfulness

One's view of hamartiology heavily influences, if not nearly determining one's view of sanctification and Christian perfection. That this is so is evidenced by the various views of sanctification discussed above. The Pelagian view of sanctification follows from the view that man's nature is not inherently sinful, but only follows the bad example of sinfulness set by Adam. Wesley's view of the human nature led him to believe that it was possible to live above breaking any known command of God.

The Pelagian, Wesleyan, and Keswickian models of sanctification maintain that sanctification primarily concerns the volition of man. While sanctification most assuredly involves the will of man, sanctification is not the mere changing of our wills from evil to good. The roots of human sinfulness are imbedded far deeper than the level of the will. It was Wesley who defined sin almost purely in the terms of willing or deliberate disobedience to known commands, not the Scripture. Our wills are changed in sanctification, but our wills are yet influenced by the sinful nature of man which is imbedded into the very core of our being, only to be purged upon our glorification.

The essence of sin is not just a perversion of our will, but of our whole being. If all that was needed for our salvation was a change in our will, then we would conclude that only our will is fallen. But the law of the mind (the will) can never overcome the law of sin and death (Romans 7:21-25). Sin is not merely a mind issue, but a spirit issue.

Romans 5:12-21 connects human sinfulness with Adamís sin, not just our personal sin. Sin entered the world through one man, Adam, and as a result of this one manís sin, all have sinned and experience spiritual death (v. 12). How can it be said that all have sinned through one manís sin? No matter how it is explained we cannot escape the conclusion that our sinfulness is the direct result of Adamís sin. His sin affected us so that it can be said that all sinned in Adam. This does not demand that we are held responsible for Adamís sin, but it does explain the origin of our sinfulness. Sin is something we are born with by virtue of being in Adam, not just something we do. Death reigned over all from Adam to Moses, even though they did not sin like Adam had sinned (v. 14). That Adamís one sin effected all of humanity is evident when Paul said:

For if through the offense of one many be deadÖ" (v. 15), and again, "For if by one man's offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (v. 17-19).

If our connection with Adamís sin is denied on the grounds that we cannot be personally affected by a sin which we did not personally commit, then we must also deny the grounds on which we have been made righteous. Jesusí righteousness and obedience is not ours, yet God imputes it to us as though it was truly ours (vs. 15-19, 21). If we cannot be suffer consequences from Adamís sin in any way, then neither can we be blessed from Christís righteousness in any way. If it is not fair that we suffer in condemnation and death because of our connection with Adam, then neither is if fair that we be blessed with Christís righteousness and life. Such an argument would destroy the entire basis of our salvation from sin.

That sin is not just a matter of the will is evident from an abundance of passages. The Scriptures teach that sin is universal in nature. If sin were only a matter of the will, with no natural inherent tendency toward sin, why would there not be at least one person among the billions who have lived on the earth who would have never sinned (besides Christ of course)? Ecclesiastes 7:20 declares, "For there is not a just man upon earth, that does good, and does not sin." Proverbs 20:9 says, "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" Why is the heart dirty with sin? The clearest of all texts is Romans 3:9-23. In the previous chapters Paul argued that both Gentiles and Jews fall short of Godís glory. He culminates his argument by pointing out that all have sinned, there is none righteous, none that seeks after God, none profitable. Our mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. We are quick to do evil. Truly all have sinned and fall short of Godís glory.

There is within humanity a natural tendency toward evil. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Why is the heart desperately wicked if sin is just a matter of the will? Ezekiel sees a need for a changing of manís heart and spirit in order for him to serve God (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:24-28; See also Jeremiah 31:31-34). David was shaped in iniquity from his conception (Psalm 51:5). Paul said, "But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you" (Romans 6:17). How can we be the servants of sin if sin does not have the mastery over us? How can sin have the mastery over us if sin is only a matter of the will? We would not be the servant of sin, but sin would be the servant of our will. Only when our will allowed sin to take told of us could we be considered sinners. 

No passage is clearer in this regard than is Romans 7:12-25. Here Paul said that the Law of God is holy (v. 12), but it actually irritated the sin problem that he already struggled with, making his sin increasingly sinful (vs. 13). Then Paul said, "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin (v. 14). In what way can it be said that we are sold under sin if sin is not a principle in us that exerts great influence over our will? Paul went on to speak of the internal struggle he faced. Things that he wanted to do (the will), he did not find the ability to do (v. 15) If sin was only a matter of the will, then Paul should have been able to do what he willed. It is obvious, however, that there is an internal struggle that did not always permit him to do what he knew was right. Paul explained this phenomenon by saying, "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me" (v. 17). Sin was something that was in him, and not some particular violation of the law. It is a principle, not just a particular act of sin. Paul pointedly said, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not" (v. 18). Here again we find a conflict between the will and being able to perform that will. Verses 19-20 further explain the conflict between what Paul wanted to do, and what he really did. Again his reason for this is because of the sin that dwells in him. Finally Paul said:

For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members [The mind can never overcome the desires of the flesh. Paul goes on to say later that the only way we can live holy is through Christís Spirit]. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin (Romans 7:22-25).

Many object that Paul is describing his pre-conversion experience in Romans 7, but that this cannot be is evident from the use of the present tense that Paul utilizes to explain his predicament. Paul is describing a present reality, not a past reality. Paulís literary point in the context of Romans 6-8 is that when he fails to rely on the Holy Spirit to overcome his sinfulness, he is doomed to failure.

Sanctification does incur a moral change in us, but not moral perfection, and not a perfection of the will. Those who advocate the perfection of the will in holiness fall into the trap of basing salvation on the will of man in conforming to the law of God, and not in the grace of God and our union with Christ. The Scripture is very clear that our salvation comes as a result of our union with Christ, whereby we receive His righteousness and life. Salvation is not based off of works, although good works will necessarily flow from salvation. If salvation is a matter of our will always obeying God's moral character, then none of us are saved.

The problem with Pelagianism is its teaching that salvation is only a matter of the will. The Scripture teaches that all of humanity is lost in sin and could not find a way of escape. If all we had to do was change our will, what was the purpose of Calvary? God would have only needed to give us the proper motivation to change our will toward the good and we would have been saved. Such could not be done, however. Godís law is weak because of the flesh (Romans 8:3). It gives us the right requirements, but mankind does not have the ability to keep it (Romans 7). We may have the right desire to do so, but cannot apart from the Spirit (Romans 7:18ó8:17). The human will can never accomplish our sanctification. Only by the incarnation could sin be condemned, and we could be given power over it (Romans 8:3). Our holiness is rooted in Christ's holiness, our union with Him, and our cooperation with His leading to become in practice what we were declared to be in justification.

The Relationship of Justification and Sanctification in the Life of the Believer

Now that we have discussed both the doctrine of justification and sanctification, how do the two correlate with one another? What is the relationship between the two?

As mentioned in the introduction to this paper, many people see justification and sanctification as antithetical. This dichotomy is held on either the theological level, the practical level, or both. Some cannot find a way to put the two together theologically while others cannot find a way to live out the theological truth of both doctrines simultaneously.

The fact of the matter is that justification and sanctification are perfect compliments, not diametric opposites. To hold the two as conceptual opposites is to do injustice to the Biblical data. Both are necessary for the development of the Christian life. That there is a relationship between grace and effort is evidenced by several NT passages. The same grace which brings salvation is the same grace which teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age (Titus 2:11-12). Our holy living is derived from, and dependent on the same grace that saved us. Only with grace can we serve God with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28). Ephesians 2:1-10 marvelously demonstrates the proper relationship between grace and works: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of Godónot because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (italics mine). Although good works cannot save us, good works will necessarily flow from salvation.

The faith which saves/justifies will necessarily result in obedience/good works. Luke and Paul both spoke of obedience to the faith (Acts 6:7; Romans 1:5; 16:26). Paul told Timothy to constantly affirm that those "which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works" (Titus 3:8). Probably the greatest didactic passage regarding the relationship of faith and works is that found in the Epistle of James. James made it clear that pure religion is not just the confession of belief, but the acting out of the belief which is professed. Faith without the corresponding works is useless, but faith coupled with corresponding "faith-works" is perfect, bringing salvation (James 2:14, 17-24, 26).

God's grace and sanctification are both necessary for a healthy Christian life. These two components can be conceptually labeled as dependence and discipline; reliance and effort. We depend on God's grace for our justification and sanctification, yet we also work together with God, exerting personal effort to accomplish the goal of sanctification. God's grace is not just God's unmerited favor towards us in justification, but an impartation of ability whereby we are able to perform His will (Romans 12:3; I Corinthians 3:10; 15:10; Galatians 2:8; I Peter 4:10-11). God enables us to work, but He does not do the work for us. Justifying faith is passive, but sanctifying faith is active, working together with God's grace. God does not make our effort unnecessary, but rather makes it effective.28

To demonstrate this Scripturally, notice that the psalmist said, "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain" (Ps 127:1, RSV). There is a sense in which both the Lord and man is building and watching. We are laborers together with God (I Corinthians 3:9). Our part is needed, but is ineffective without God's working in the same. Paul commanded the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (personal responsibility), but also noted that it was God's enabling of them to do so (Philippians 2:13-14). Later he commented regarding his own relationship with God, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13, italics mine). Paul said that he himself would do all things, but that his efforts were dependent on the strength of the Lord. Again in the epistle to the Colossians Paul noted that he labored in the work of the gospel according to God's working in him (Colossians 1:28-29). Apart from God's working we can do nothing (John 15:1-6), but when we combine our effort with God's gracious enabling, we can perfect holiness in the fear of God (II Corinthians 7:1).

As much as we should see justification and sanctification as working together, we must maintain a conceptual distinction between the two. Each serves a different purpose in our salvation experience, and each has its own defining characteristics. Sanctification is in degrees and is progressive; justification is a fixed standing which is given to the believing individual. One cannot be more justified, but one can be more sanctified. Justification is objective, affecting our standing before God and His Law; sanctification is subjective, affecting our inner man.29 As Gordon Lewis noted:

Although justification changes one's legal status, it does not transform the heart; regeneration and sanctification do that. Ö The basic issue is not whether sanctification inevitably follows from and is continually rooted in justification, but whether sanctification is to be included in the concept of justification. Justification is distinct from sanctification, although the former leads to the latter. Justification is a complete provision of Jesus Christ's atonement; sanctification is a progressive enabling by the Spirit's ministries. That is, justification is once-for-all; sanctification is continuous.30

A failure to distinguish between justification and sanctification lends to the practical theology of a works-based salvation, as we have seen in the Catholic Church. In fact, the human tendency is to combine the concepts of justification and sanctification into one, assuming that our justification before God is based on the level of our sanctification. Paul's frequent attacks on legalism demonstrate this fact. Richard Lovelace had tremendous insight to this phenomenon when he said:

We all automatically gravitate toward the assumption that we are justified by our level of sanctification, and when this posture is adopted it inevitably focuses our attention not on Christ but on the adequacy of our own obedience. We start each day with our personal security resting not on the accepting love of God and the sacrifice of Christ but on our present feelings or recent achievements in the Christian life. Since these arguments will not quite the human conscience, we are inevitably moved either to discouragement and apathy or to a self-righteousness which falsifies the record to achieve a sense of peace.31

When we relate to God based on our level of sanctification we tend to feel that we cannot come before Him. Understanding that our acceptance in God's sight has been secured when we were initially justified gives us freedom to come before His throne of grace. Christ's righteousness is imputed to us by faith even before we begin to mortify the deeds of the body and separate ourselves to God and from sinful attitudes and behaviors.

Understanding the acceptance we were given in justification apart from sanctification should not lead one to see the latter as optional in the Christian life. It is not enough to know that we are accepted through faith in Christ, but we must also realize that we are delivered from the dominion and bondage of sin through Christ.32 We cannot claim the power of justification unless we also confess the delivering power of sanctification.

Paul warned the Galatians of using their liberty in the gospel and standing before God as an occasion of the flesh (Galatians 5:13). To the Romans Paul said, "The night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darknessÖ. Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:12-14 RSV). We are to put on the new man which is created in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:24). One who is righteous will do deeds of righteousness and grow in righteousness (Ephesians 4:24; 5:9; Philippians 1:11). There is a fine line between using grace as an excuse for sin and for a remedy for sin. God's grace can be abused (Jude 1:4). The way to ensure that we are not misusing grace is through repentance. One can hardly abuse grace while at the same time experiencing genuine godly sorrow for sin (II Corinthians 7:10).

Some may question the motivation or need Christians have to live right if they are indeed accepted before God based on their faith in Him. This question, although it may be asked by a sincere individual, is the wrong question to ask. It embodies the "what must I do to get by?" attitude. This is not the Biblical perspective. The answer to this question, however, is found in Jesus statement to His disciples: "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Love for the one who died and rose again for us is our motivation to live right. We do not live right merely because we fear God, but because we love God. Paul emulated this attitude when he said, "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (II Corinthians 5:14-15).

We might compare this to a marriage relationship. There is a legal pronouncement of relationship between the husband and wife, but this legal pronouncement does not guarantee the quality of the relationship. There is a status change between the two parties, but this status change is not meant to be the end-goal of the marriage. There is to be a growth in relationship. Any married couple will confess that in order to make a marriage work there will be an alteration of behavior. If one refuses to change their behavior so as to please their lover, although one may be in a legal relationship with their lover, they are not in a good relationship with the same. When we truly love someone we desire to do that which pleases them. In our relationship with God we should naturally desire to live our lives in accordance with His will and character, pleasing Him in all that we do.

Sanctification, then, is not the prerequisite of our salvation and relationship with God, but the outflow of it (Ephesians 2:8-10). Grace and good works must both be emphasized if we are to have a Biblical and practical Christianity. We must insist on grace, not as the alternative to good works, but as the means to good works. Conversely we must insist on good works, not as the alternative to grace, but as the result of grace. Justification is only one element in our spiritual vitality, not the totality. It alone does not cause complete spiritual health. We also need a revelation of God's holiness and personal progress in sanctification to escape suffering in other areas. As Martin Luther has said, "We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone." Although our relationship with God is established by faith/justification, it is furthered by sanctification. Let us pursue holiness in light of our acceptance before God, not for our acceptance.

Works Cited

Bernard, David. The New Birth. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1984.

Bridges, Jerry. The Discipline of Grace. Colorado Springs, CO: Nav Press, 1994.

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984.

Erickson, Millard J. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [CD-ROM], in BibleWorks, electronic media, 1998.

Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Lewis, Gordon L. and Bruce A. Demarest. Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.

Lovelace, Richard. Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979.

McGrath, Alister. Justification by Faith. In Studies in Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.

Segraves, Daniel. Systematic Theology I. Stockton: n.p., 1997.

Sloat, Donald E. Growing Up Holy & Wholly. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1990

1. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [CD-ROM], "qyDIc," BibleWorks, electronic media, 1998. <back>
2. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 480. <back>
3. Alister McGrath, Justification by Faith, in Studies in Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 232. <back>
4. McGrath, 369. <back>
5. Gordon L. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 1996), 148. <back>
6. Millard J. Erickson, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 803. <back>
7. Ibid. <back>
8. McGrath, 393. <back>
9. Ibid., 396. <back>
10. Ibid., 423. <back>
11. Ibid., 400. <back>
12. Ibid., 391. <back>
13. Ladd, 484. <back>
14. David Bernard, The New Birth (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1984), 48-49. <back>
15. Ladd, 488. <back>
16. Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 101. <back>
17. Ibid., 99. <back>
18. Erickson, 968. <back>
19. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 968. <back>
20. Donald E. Sloat, Growing Up Holy & Wholly (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1990), 174. <back>
21. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 834. <back>
22. Lewis and Demarest, 176. <back>
23. Ibid., 182. <back>
24. Ibid. <back>
25. Westminster Shorter Catechism, in response to question number thirty-five, "What is Sanctification?" <back>
26. Daniel Segraves, Systematic Theology I (Stockton: n.p., 1997), 125. <back>
27. Lovelace, 92. <back>
28. Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (Colorado Springs, CO: Nav Press, 1994), 133. <back>
29. Erickson, 969. <back>
30. Lewis and Demarest, 152. <back>
31. Lovelace, 211. <back>
32. Ibid., 114. <back>


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