Salvation and Sanctification

By William Webster


Pursue...sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14)

Like justification, sanctification is an essential part of the overall work of salvation. It must be noted again that scripture teaches that sanctification cannot be separated from justification. There is no salvation without sanctification. No one can be justified who is not at the same time being sanctified for the God who justifies also sanctifies. Hebrews 2:11 states: ‘For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.’ Christ himself says: ‘Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven’ (Mt. 7:21). The apostle John warns us that a profession of salvation will be proved by a life of obedience to the commandments of God, i.e. a life of sanctification (1 Jn. 2:3–6). Paul teaches that only those who have forsaken sin and are walking in holiness of life will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–11; Eph. 5:5–6; Gal. 5:19–21). James says that a profession of faith without any accompanying works of sanctification is a dead faith and therefore non–saving (Js. 2:14–21). The theology of the Reformation was unanimous in declaring this truth. Note, for example, the following comments by John Calvin:

Why, then, are we justified by faith? Because by faith we grasp Christ’s righteousness, by which alone we are reconciled to God. Yet you could not grasp this without at the same time grasping sanctification also. For he ‘is given unto us for righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption’ (1 Cor 1:30). Therefore Christ justifies no one whom he does not at the same time sanctify. These benefits are joined together by an everlasting and indissoluble bond, so that those whom he illumines by his wisdom, he redeems; those whom he redeems, he justifies; those whom he justifies, he sanctifies. But, since the question concerns only righteousness and sanctification, let us dwell upon these. Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker of his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. Thus it is clear how true it is that we are justified not without works yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Found in The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), Volume XIX, Book III, Ch. XVI.1, p. 798).

We saw in an earlier article the affirmation of works by Philip Melanchthon and Thomas Cranmer. Martin Luther likewise emphasized the necessity for the works of sanctification in salvation:

From all this it is easy to perceive on what principle good works are to be cast aside or embraced, and by what rule all teachings put forth concerning works are to be understood. For if works are brought forward as grounds of justification, and are done under the false persuasion that we can pretend to be justified by them, they lay on us the yoke of necessity, and extinguish liberty along with faith, and by this very addition to their use they become no longer good, but really worthy of condemnation. For such works are not free, but blaspheme the grace of God, to which alone it belongs to justify and save through faith. Works cannot accomplish this, and yet, with impious presumption, through our folly, they take on themselves to do so; and thus break in with violence upon the office and glory of grace.
We do not then reject good works; nay, we embrace them and teach them in the highest degree. It is not on their own account that we condemn them, but on account of this impious addition to them and the preverse notion of seeking justification from them. It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works. Faith redeems our consciences, makes them upright, and preserves them, since by it we recognise the truth that justification does not depend on our works, although good works neither can nor ought to be absent...
(Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty. Found in Luther’s Primary Works (London: Hodder & Stroughton, 1896), Henry Wace and C.A. Buchheim Ed., , pp. 275-277, 288).

The following comments from the Scottish Confession of Faith from the mid sixteenth century represents the views of John Knox and the Protestant Church on the necessity for sanctification:

So that the cause of Good works we confess to be, not our free will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus who, dwelling in our hearts by true faith, brings forth such good works as God hath prepared for us to walk into: for this we most boldly affirm, that blasphemy it is to say that Christ Jesus abides in the hearts of such as in whom there is no spirit of Sanctification. And therefore we fear not to affirm that murderers, oppressors, cruel persecuters, adulterers, whoremongers, filthy persons, idolators, drunkards, thieves, and all workers of iniquity, have neither true faith, neither any portion of the spirit of Sanctification, which proceedeth from the Lord Jesus so long as they obstinately continue in their wickedness. For how soon that ever the spirit of the Lord Jesus (which God’s elect children receive by true faith), takes possession in the heart of any man, so soon does He regenerate and renew the same man; so that he begins to hate that which before he loved, and begins to love that which before he hated...But the Spirit of God, which giveth witnessing to our spirit, that we are the sons of God, makes us to resist the devil, to abhor filthy pleasures, to groan in God’s presence for deliverance from this bondage of corruption; and finally, so to triumph over sin that it reign not in our mortal bodies...The sons of God...do fight against sin, do sob and mourn, when they perceive themselves tempted to iniquity; and if they fall, they rise again with earnest and unfeigned repentance. And these things they do not by their own power, but the power of the Lord Jesus (without whom they are able to do nothing) worketh in them all that is good (The Confession of Faith, Cap. XIII, The Cause of Good Works. Found in John Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland (New York: Philisophical Library, 1950), Volume II, p. 263).

The Westminster Confession is very clear in stating that saving faith means a receiving of and trusting in Christ for justification and sanctification:

The principal acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace (The Westminster Confession of Faith. Found in A.A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (Edinburgh: Banner, 1958), p. 204).

A.A. Hodge sums up the Reformed teaching with this warning:

Now, every Christian who really has experienced the grace of Christ must, unless very greatly prejudiced, recognize the fact that this work of sanctification is the end and the crown of the whole process of salvation. We insist upon and put forward distinctly the great doctrine of justification as a means to an end. It is absolutely necessary as the condition of that faith which is the necessary source of regeneration and sanctification; and every person who is a Christian must recognize the fact that not only will it issue in sanctification, but it must begin in sanctification. This element must be recognized as characteristic of the Christian experience from the first to the last. And any man who thinks that he is a Christian, and that he has accepted Christ for justification when he did not at the same time accept Christ for sanctification, is miserably deluded in that very experience. He is in danger of falling under the judgment of which Paul admonishes when he speaks of the wrath of God coming down from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, and with special reference to those who ‘hold the truth in unrighteousness’ (A.A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology (Edinburgh: Banner, 1976), p. 297).

Sanctification and justification are inseparably linked through union with Christ. When this union takes place the Christian becomes a slave of Christ and, as a result, a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:1–22). Consequently, saving faith that unites a person to Christ will always manifest the reality of that union in progressive sanctification. Scripture refers to this as works or fruit.

But sanctification has two aspects. There is a positional sanctification which is followed by a progressive sanctification. Just as there are two aspects to the nature of sin (the disposition of the heart and consequential behavior), so there are two parts to sanctification. Sanctification relates first to God as a person (positional) and secondarily to his will (progressive). It deals with the disposition of the heart being wholly set apart to God and then with behavioral obedience which flows out of the relationship. In other words, for there to be a sanctified life there must first of all be a sanctified heart—a heart set apart and devoted to God. It is what scripture calls a circumcised heart. Martyn Lloyd–Jones distinguishes these two aspects of sanctification:

The main characteristic of people who are sanctified is that God is in the center of their lives. That is the first thing we may say about them. Before we get them to say what they do or do not do with regard to a particular action, we must be clear about the central, primary, most vital thing...Sanctification is that which separates us from sin unto God...The essence of sanctification is that I love God in whom I believe and who has been revealed to me, with the whole of my being...Sanctification is a matter of being rightly related to God, and becoming entirely devoted to him...not only separated from the world but separated unto God and sharing his life (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Sanctified Through the Truth (Westchester: Crossway, 1989), p. 86, 85, 91, 77).

In Romans 6:22 Paul gives a description of the Christian and the nature of the salvation that God accomplishes: ‘Therefore, having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your fruit resulting in sanctification and the outcome eternal life.’ The sanctified life then, or fruit in the Christian’s life, is directly related to his having been set free from sin and enslaved to God. There can be no obedience to the will of God without first being submitted to the person of God. This is obvious from the phrase ‘enslaved to God’. The word ‘enslaved’ is a form of the Greek word doulos. It means a bondslave. The corresponding or complementary word is the Greek kyrios or Lord. A doulos is one who is in relationship with one who is Lord. This means that unless an individual has entered a relationship with God as Lord and become a doulos he has never been set free from sin. J.I. Packer states it succinctly: ‘Where Christ does not rule, sin does’ (J.I. Packer, God’s Words (Downers Grove: InterVarsity), p. 74).

To understand in practical terms the meaning of the word doulos it would be helpful to define it in the context of the Greek culture from which it is derived. The word literally means a slave. The Dictionary of New Testament Theology gives the following background on the word:

For the Attic (Greek), personal freedom was his prized possession. To be independent of others and to manage his own life and to live as he chooses is of the essence of such freedom. The doulos belonged by nature not to himself, but to someone else...Because douleuo involved the abrogation of one’s own autonomy and the subordination of one’s will to that of another, the Greek felt only revulsion and contempt for the position of a slave...Douleuein in the sense of dependence and subordination in service is debasing and contemptible...That which the Greeks regarded as the highest form of freedom becomes in the (New Testament) the source of man’s most abject bondage. Man, bent upon himself, obstinately waves God’s help aside and busies himself in running his own life in his own strength, trusting in his own resources, and falls into the grip of fear...Christ’s redemption frees one for obedient service under the command of the Kyrios...and leads one into the service of righteousness in the new Spirit-given nature (Rom. 6:18; 7:6) (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), Volume III, pp. 592-593, 597, 596).

The idea of personal autonomy and independence is the antithesis of what it means to be a doulos. A doulos is one who is owned by another. Therefore a true Christian is one who has renunciated personal autonomy and independence from God. He has submitted his life to Christ as Lord to become the possession of Christ. He then begins to live in subjection to Christ and his will. Progressive sanctification begins with a relationship in being set apart unto God as his servant. From that relationship flows a life of progressive sanctification or obedience. Positional sanctification is foundational to progressive sanctification. John Murray emphasizes this in these comments:

When we speak of sanctification we generally think of it as a process by which the believer is gradually transformed in heart, mind, will, and conduct, and conformed more and more to the will of God and to the image of Christ, until at death the disembodied spirit is made perfect in holiness, and at the resurrection his body likewise will be conformed to the likeness of the body of Christ’s glory. It is biblical to apply the term ‘sanctification’ to this process of transformation and conformation. But it is a fact too frequently overlooked that in the New Testament the most characteristic terms that refer to sanctification are used, not of a process, but of a once–for–all definitive act.
We properly think of calling, regeneration, justification, and adoption as acts of God effected once for all, and not requiring or admitting of repetition. It is of their nature to be definitive. But a considerable part of the New Testament teaching places sanctification in this category...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.
What is this sanctification? No passage in the New Testament is more instructive than Romans 6:1–7:6. The teaching here is oriented against the question with which Paul begins: ‘Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?’...What does Paul mean? He is using the language of that phenomenon with which we are all familiar, the event of death. When a person dies he is no longer active in the sphere or realm or relation in reference to which he has died. His connection with that realm has been dissolved; he has no further communications with those who still live in that realm, nor do they have with him.
In accord with this analogy, the person who lives in sin, or to sin, lives and acts in the realm of sin—it is the sphere of his life and activity. And the person who died to sin no longer lives in that sphere. His tie with it has been broken, and he has been translated into another realm...This is the decisive cleavage that the apostle has in view; it is the foundation upon which rests his whole conception of a believer’s life, and it is a cleavage, a breach, a translation as really and decisively true in the sphere of moral and religious relationship as in ordinary experience of death. There is a once–for–all definitive and irreversible breach with the realm in which sin reigns in and unto death...This means that there is a decisive and definitive breach with the power and service of sin in the case of every one who has come under the control of the provisions of grace
(John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner, 1977), Volume 2, pp. 278-280).

A life of obedience—progressive sanctification—can only be lived out by a life that is truly consecrated to God. Sanctification is not just a process. It begins with a commitment of life to God. We must differentiate between definitive and progressive sanctification, emphasizing the one as productive of the other, because apart from this initial commitment to God , there will be no progressive sanctification in behavior. We may emphasize the necessity for submission to the will of God in Christian experience but if we do not place equal emphasis on the need for submission of heart to God himself we will only call men to morality and not righteousness. Morality is ethical behavior without a heart submitted to God. Righteousness, on the other hand, is ethical behavior that flows out of a right relationship with God. John Owen makes this point when he says:

All obedience unto Christ proceeds from an express subjection of our souls and consciences unto Him...We may learn hence not to satisfy ourselves, or not to rest, in any acts or duties of obedience, in any good works, how good and useful soever in themselves, or howsoever multiplied by us, unless there be a vital principle of holiness in our hearts. A few honest actions, a few useful duties, do satisfy some persons that they are as holy as they should be, or as they need to be...But God expressly rejecteth not only such duties, but the greatest multitude of them, and their most frequent reiteration, if the heart be not antecedently purified and sanctified, if it be not possessed with the principle of grace and holiness’ (John Owen, The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner, 1965), Volume 1, p. 136; Volume 3, pp. 480–481).

And John Flavel says:

Sanctification notes a holy dedication of heart and life to God: Our becoming the temples of the living God, separate from all profane sinful practices, to the Lord’s only use and service (John Flavel, The Works of John Flavel (Edinburgh: Banner, 1968), Volume II, Sermon I, The Method of Grace, p. 19).

While it is true that positionally a believer is viewed as sanctified before God, this is not the whole story about definitive sanctification. As Murray points out, this aspect of sanctification involves a very real and decisive break with the rule and realm of sin. It is just as real in the experience of the believer as progressive sanctification. It is not just theological, it is also experiential.

There is no salvation without sanctification. A holy life is the evidence of saving faith and justification because it is evidence of union with Christ. The Reformers have often been falsely accused of teaching that justification by faith means that the works of sanctification are not necessary in the overall work of salvation. It has been stated by Roman Catholics that Luther and Calvin taught that one could be justified and saved and go on living in sin. William Marshner believes and teaches this as evidenced by the following comments:

Living faith: our quality but God’s instrument; good works: our deeds but God’s handiwork; our deeds as men living in Christ, not the motions of ‘graced’ zombies still dead in sin—these are the possibilities overlooked by Luther and Calvin but preached by Paul and defined by Trent (William Marshner, Justification by Faith. Taken from Reasons for Hope: Catholic Apologetics (Front Royal: Christendom College, 1978), p. 237).

The quotations cited above from the Reformers and the Reformed theologians who followed them prove conclusively that they never taught that men who were justified in Christ remained dead in sin and continued living in it. The Reformers all taught in the strongest possible terms the absolute necessity for sanctification. What they did not do was equate sanctification with justification. It is important to note again that the Reformers affirmed what scripture affirms—an imputed righteousness for justification as well as the righteousness of sanctification received through the grace of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit. John Gerstner offers the following clarification of the Protestant teaching in light of the Roman Catholic misrepresentation :

Romanists have always tried to hang antinomianism on Protestantism. They seem incapable even of understanding ‘justification is by faith alone, but not by the faith that is alone,’ though that formula has been present since the Reformation.
If this were a true charge it would be a fatal one. If Protestantism thought that a sinner could be saved without becoming godly, it would be an absolute, damning lie. His name is ‘Jesus’ for He saves His is people from their sins, not in them. And He saves His people not only from the guilt of sin but from its dominating power as well. If a believer is not changed, he is not a believer. No one can have Christ as Savior for one moment when He is not Lord as well. We can never say too often: ‘Justification is by faith alone, but NOT by a faith that is alone.’ Justification is by a WORKING faith.
Why does Rome continue to make that centuries–long misrepresentation of justification by faith alone? Because:
First, she knows that faith without works is dead. Second, she hears Protestantism teach justification by faith alone ‘apart’ from works. Third, she doesn’t listen when Protestantism explains that ‘apart from works means ‘apart from the merit of works,’ not ‘apart from the presence of works.’ Fourth, she hears some Protestants, who also misunderstand Protestantism, teaching ‘easy–believism.’ Fifth, she knows ‘easy–believism’ is an utterly overwhelming argument against Protestantism (which it would be it were true).
Let me explain, therefore, once again what the Protestant biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works means. Justification with God is apart from the merit of works. That does not mean that justification is apart from the existence of works. Christianity teaches justification apart from the merit of works. Easy–believism teaches justification apart from the existence of works. Faith without the existence of works is dead...Faith with the merit of works is legalism
(Justification by Faith Alone, Don Kistler, Ed. (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), John Gerstner, The Nature of Justifying Faith, pp. 113–115).

Here, an objection is raised by some from within Protestantism regarding this teaching on sanctification: If sanctification is a necessary part of salvation, is that not the same thing as saying that works are necessary for salvation? Are you not collapsing sanctification into justification, making works the basis for justification? The answer is no. Justification is a work of Christ accomplished completely outside of man, given as a gift, applied by God and received by faith when the individual is united to Christ. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to him. But while justification is a legal declaration of righteousness there is more to salvation. Again, justification is but one part of the overall work of salvation. When a man is united to Christ and justified, he is also regenerated and sanctified and begins to manifest this wonderful change in a life of obedience. This comes, as does justification, from union with Christ. It is a separate and distinct work of God in salvation. Justification is a completed, eternal work in its own right. All the work necessary to merit justification and eternal life was accomplished by Christ in man’s stead. Therefore the basis for justification is the work of Christ alone. Sanctification is not the basis of justification. But sanctification is produced from the same union that justifies. The works of sanctification are the evidence of the reality of union with Christ and regeneration and therefore of justification. If a man is not regenerated and sanctified he has never been justified because he is not united to Christ. Martyn Lloyd–Jones expresses it this way:

Justification is only one step, an initial step, in a process. And the process includes not only justification but regeneration and sanctification and ultimate glorification. Justification and forgiveness of sins are not ends in and of themselves; they are only steps on a way that leads to final perfection...Some Christians persist in isolating these things, but they are not isolated in the Scriptures...We cannot divorce justification and forgiveness from other parts of truth...God does not justify a man and leave him there. Not at all! If God justifies a man, God has brought that man into the process...And unless we are giving evidence of being in the process and of being perfected by it, there is but one conclusion to draw—we have never been in the kingdom at all, we must go back to the very beginning, we must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (D.M. Lloyd–Jones, Darkness and Light: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:17-5:17 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982), pp. 350-351, 353).

This truth needs to be heralded in our day: God justifies no one whom he does not also regenerate and sanctify. God does not justify men through the death of his Son, only to have them continue to habitually live in sin. He does not leave man dead in sin, but supernaturally transforms their very natures through the miracle of the new birth.