Justification and Sanctification: Part 2
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,
who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:1 NKJ
Question 77 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?” It gives the answer, “Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ, in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.” Last week we saw how God, in general, instantaneously justifies the believing sinner through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and progressively sanctifies him by infusing grace into him throughout his life. This week we look at these actions of God with regard to the particulars mentioned in the question.
Remember, when we are talking about justification and sanctification, we are speaking of those works of God that He does in the life of every single believer – and only in the believer. There is no such thing as a person who experiences a momentary or temporal justification, or a partial or slight sanctification and then goes on to be excluded from salvation. All of the elect experience justification and some level of sanctification, for undergoing these things is being saved! As the Catechism declares, in justification God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the believing sinner. This means God counts or credits to the sinner that perfect righteousness that Jesus earned in His sinless life. The sinner, now accounted as righteous before God, is pardoned of all of his sins. Having been pardoned of his sin, the believing sinner is fully set free “from the revenging wrath of God.” Jesus’ death on the cross was a sin offering for all of His elect (Heb. 10:12; 1 Pet. 2:24).
If you are a believer today, it is because God poured out the wrath, which He really has for all of the sins you have or will ever commit, upon Jesus in your place. Therefore, when you were justified, which took place the moment you first believed in Jesus, you were set free from the wrath of God forever. You were set free. Once the verdict, “Not guilty but righteous” has been rendered to you on account of your faith in Christ, you are free. This being set free occurs right now, in this life, for you and every believer. No believer is or can be more or less free from God’s wrath than another. It is full and perfect freedom. It is an equal benefit to all who are justified. You cannot be condemned by God ever again. As Romans 8:1a declares, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus….”
In sanctification God infuses grace into the believer, enabling the believer to live out that grace. Thus, the difference between the two can be set forth as follows. In justification God acts once and, in a moment, and the work is completed and equal in all. God’s work is not in the believer but to the believer. Justification is a declared change of status, not a change of heart or character. In sanctification God makes no declaration but begins and continues to work in the believing sinner to really and progressively effect heart or character change. As the Catechism states it, in justification God pardons the sinner. God says in effect, “You are forgiven. You are righteous.” In sanctification however, God does not say anything, He simply sends His Spirit into the believer, not to pardon the guilt of sin but to subdue its power. This subduing of sin and enabling to the exercise of grace is a process in which the believer participates. It is never perfect in any – there is no believer who is without sin (Rom. 3:23). Neither is it the equal possession of any two Christians. We are all somewhere in the process of being sanctified. But it is progressive and growing in all believers. If you are a believer you will overcome sin, for “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world,” (1 John 4:4). The believer “cannot sin (meaning he cannot live in any particular sin) because he has been born of God,” (1 John 3:9). Thus, the entire verse at the head of this article, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,” that is, there is no condemnation to those who have been justified. And those who have been justified are being sanctified, that is, they “do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” By God’s grace they are living out their faith: subduing sin and exercising obedience, imperfectly but truly. Praise God for His amazing grace of justification and sanctification!