Justification, Sanctification-Definitive And Progressive, And Entrance To Heaven.
There are a number of reasons why it is right for people to be confused by the current discussions on justification, works, and sanctification, because the terms and concepts are not clearly defined. With the following criticisms it is not my intent to hold court on the orthodoxy of certain writers. However, at the very least there are truths here that are not clearly stated.
First of all, justification. Too often the definition of justification is itself wrong. Justification is not being “right with God” or “a right relationship with God.” Justification is nothing more or less than God declaring a sinner righteous based on the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. Justification is very precisely this declarative act based on Christ’s imputed righteousness. If we miss this crucial definition or stray from it we are already off course.
Secondly, by contrasting justification with what is required to enter heaven, namely works as some suggest, a false contrast is set up. At the very moment that an elect sinner is declared righteous by the Father, through the imputed righteousness of Christ, this declaration is as final in heaven as it is on earth-period, full stop! By drawing the contrast as some have, they are giving the impression, at the very least, that this declarative act is not good in heaven.
Third, it is absolutely true that true faith will evidence itself in how we live, but this kind of faith is also a gift. When Paul wrote that, “by grace you have been saved through faith,” it is this entire package that is in view, the entire thing, including faith, “is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Faith and its evidences share this in common, they follow regeneration, they do not precede it.
Four, in confusing justification with sanctification many also fail to properly define sanctification. It is important to remember that there are two aspects to sanctification-it is both definitive and progressive. It is not uncommon for people to jump from justification to progressive sanctification and worse still, to do so in such a way that it gives the impression that having begun by the Spirit we are to carry on living by our own strength. In reality, progressive sanctification actually flows from definitive sanctification.
There are many passages of scripture which speak of sanctification in the past tense-that is, definitive-it is done. One good example is the epistle to the Hebrews. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). Note it well, our writer, and through him the Holy Spirit, does not say here, “we are being sanctified,” but “we have been sanctified,” and this through the once and for all finished work of Christ alone! Our writer could have said “are being sanctified” because he did so earlier (2:11).
“For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). These are his points: First of all, sanctification is as definitive as justification-we have been sanctified through the finished work of Christ alone. Second, sanctification is also progressive-we are being sanctified. Thirdly, even progressive sanctification is the work of God for, “for both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one.” We are being progressively sanctified by God because we have been definitively sanctified by the finished work of Christ alone.
Sanctification is rooted in our union with Christ. People would do well to remember the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. Definitive sanctification is simultaneous with regeneration and effectual calling. No one was clearer on this than Dr. John Murray. Read his ‘Redemption Accomplished And Applied’. If you have not read his definitive work on definitive sanctification, then you should do so-here it is- http://www.the-highway.com/definitive-sanctification_Murray.html
As Murray notes, Paul addressed the Corinthians as those “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2), and “sanctified” as definitively as “justified” (6:11). “We are thus compelled to take account of the fact that the language of sanctification is used with reference to some decisive action that occurs at the inception of the Christian life and one that characterizes the people of God in their identity as called effectually by God’s grace. It would be, therefore, a deflection from biblical patterns of language and conception to think of sanctification exclusively in terms of a progressive work.” Murray, (‘Definitive’).
As Paul wrote to the “foolish” Galatians, “Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (3:1-3) Lets be clear, the only works that are acceptable to God are “works of the law,” but they are no more conditions of our sanctification than they are of our justification. Works are but the evidences of true faith.
Works can no more be “conditions” for entrance into heaven than they can be for justification or sanctification-definitive or progressive. Works are evidence of definitive and progressive sanctification. James does not contradict Paul, Paul simply takes us back to first principles, which is exactly where one must begin. This is the point, progressive sanctification is every bit as much the work of the Holy Spirit as is regeneration and effectual calling, and sanctification is as definitively a work of Christ as is justification.
Again, from Murray: “it might be said that by his death and resurrection Christ has procured every saving gift — the death and resurrection are therefore the meritorious and procuring cause of sanctification as well as of justification and in this respect are as directly related to sanctification as to justification.” (‘Definitive’) “The truth is that our death to sin and newness of life are effected in our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, and no virtue accruing from the death and resurrection of Christ affects any phase of salvation more directly than the breach with sin and newness of life.”
To conclude, justification is a definitive act whereby an elect sinner is declared righteous based solely upon the finished work of Christ imputed. Secondly, sanctification is also a definitive act of Christ, and upon this definitive sanctification we are progressively sanctified by that same Spirit by who we have been regenerated and effectually called. Thirdly, any contrast between justification and with it sanctification, and conditions of entrance into heaven is a false one. Justification and sanctification are as definitive in heaven as they are at conversion. Finally, even progressive sanctification is God working in and through us to apply that which has been definitively secured.