Justification & Sanctification: Distinct, yet inseparable
Some people have a hard time with the understanding that men and women are declared right before God (justified) by faith in Jesus Christ alone. They fear that such a teaching permits people to live reckless lives with a “God will forgive me” attitude. The problem with this misunderstanding is that it separates faith in Jesus and the life that we lead. When someone surrenders their life to Jesus, the Holy Spirit takes residency in them and they are a new creation. The old me is gone. I’m a new person. While we’re not saved by doing good works, it doesn’t mean that good works are not necessary fruit found in those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus (Matthew 13:23).
John Calvin is so helpful in this discussion. The quote is lengthy, but stay with it. He writes,
We dream not of a faith which is devoid of good works, nor of a justification which can exist without them: the only difference is, that while we acknowledge that faith and works are necessarily connected, we, however, place justification in faith, not in works. How this is done is easily explained, if we turn to Christ only, to whom our faith is directed and from whom it derives all its power. Why, then, are we justified by faith? Because by faith we apprehend the righteousness of Christ, which alone reconciles us to God. This faith, however, you cannot apprehend without at the same time apprehending sanctification; for Christ “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Cor. 1:30). Christ, therefore, justifies no man without also sanctifying him. These blessings are conjoined by a perpetual and inseparable tie. Those whom he enlightens by his wisdom he redeems; whom he redeems he justifies; whom he justifies he sanctifies. But as the question relates only to justification and sanctification, to them let us confine ourselves. Though we distinguish between them, they are both inseparably comprehended in Christ. (1559 Institutes, 3. 16. 1)
J. Todd Billings, in his book Calvin, Participation, and the Gift (Oxford, 2007) summarizes, “Just as one cannot divide the two natures in the person of Christ (i.e. his divinity and humanity), so the graces of justification (i.e. by faith) and sanctification can be distinguished, but not divided.” He says that justification and sanctification “are distinct, yet inseparable” (107).
Praise God that we are saved by His grace through faith (which is also a gift from him!). In the same way, praise God that he has transformed our lives and given us his Spirit to live for his glory. As justified sinners, we are no longer slaves to sin, but have the victory in Jesus to lead lives of holiness. Soli Deo Gloria!