In Part 1, I mentioned that the objective (legal) work of justification by faith is never independent of the subjective (transformative) work of God within the human heart, for it is only the contrite and humbled that can appreciate the great gift of righteousness received by faith alone. I will continue to expound on this in this second part and quote Scripture references that show how, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, you are not only declared righteous by faith but made holy by faith. But I want to make something clear at the outset. The righteousness that justifies us before God is Christ’s alone – received by faith alone. The process of sanctification is not a work to justify us before God, but to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Does this surprise you? It surprised me too. No doubt, because it’s so natural for us to want to take some credit.
I also mentioned that in the Christian life, there is a counterfeit that masquerades as holiness – called sanctimoniousness. People caught up in this counterfeit are driven by a desire to justify themselves and to establish their own righteousness, but in doing so, they cannot submit themselves to the righteousness of God – for that is received only through faith. You will need to read Part 1 to understand that, and what I’m going to share in this article.
The process of sanctification or making holy, begins with the process of justification by faith, because to be made holy means to be cleansed from moral defilement. It is futile to attempt to make ourselves holy or righteous. Only God can cleanse us from moral defilement, for
“who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.” Job 14:4
Our moral defilement is found in three things: our guilt, our sinful dispositions, and our defective ideologies. True holiness then begins with being forgiven, because it is nothing else but the blood of Jesus that removes our guilt. And it is only by the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour that our sinful dispositions can be transformed, and our defective ideologies corrected.
Notice how the Apostle John associates justification with sanctification.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [declared righteous] and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [made holy].” 1 John 1:9
John makes it clear to me that God is not only concerned with clearing your guilt, but with cleansing you from what led to your guilt, in order that you might not sink into the same wrong-doing.
However, I think where confusion exists, is when we begin to think that the process of sanctification within us, makes it possible for us to be accounted righteous outside of justification by faith. We begin to think that at some point in time in our sanctification, we will reach a point of obedience where we will no longer need the righteousness of Christ to cover us because our righteousness will be equal to his. Imperceptibly, we begin to think that sanctification will produce a righteousness equal to that of Christ’s by a life-long process of striving and faithfulness. But the Apostle Paul tells us that the only way to be accounted righteous before God is through righteousness by faith – outside of our own works of obedience.
“…to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” Romans 4:5-6.
What is justification by faith? It is justification by faith. The works of faith are not included in it. Is there another form of justification before God available to the sinner outside of faith? I have not found it in the Scriptures. It only exists outside of Scripture.
But what I do find in the Bible is that whom the Lord forgives, he also makes holy. So, while there is a work of grace that has happened outside of us to justify us (Christ’s life and death), there is a work of grace happening within us to bring us to faith, repentance, confession and obedience – not to justify us – but to heal us from sin.
Now, we know whose righteousness it is that declares us righteous, but whose righteousness is it that makes us righteous? Be careful. It is here that our walk can take a turn along the counterfeit path of holiness. Notice this verse.
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Romans 5:19
This verse speaks of two men. The first is Adam, and the second is Christ. Because of Adam’s transgression, we weren’t only declared a sinner, but made one. In the same manner, we aren’t only declared, but made righteous – notice – through our obedience? No. It is by the obedience of ONE man that we are made, not just accounted righteous. We had nothing to do with the disobedience of Adam, we had nothing to do with the obedience of Christ, but it is as we belong to one or the other that we take on the nature of one or the other. We were made sinners by the natural birth; we are made righteous by being born again of the Spirit of God.
It is so important to notice here that it is not our obedience that makes us righteous, but Christ’s obedience that does so! Here, human nature begins to scream and get agitated, but, but, but…don’t we have something to bring to the justification table? In terms of merit and righteousness, nothing! In terms of sinning and falling short – plenty. It is here that we take comfort in the truth that it is for the ungodly that Christ died, and that it is the ungodly that God justifies by faith.
But as I mentioned, God is not only interested in justifying us by faith, but in purifying our hearts by faith. The work of redemption is complete! For what good would it do that I be forgiven for my past sins, and yet left to grapple with my sinful disposition and defective reasoning? Praise God! He saves me not only from my guilt, but what led me to that guilt!
So how does God cleanse you from guilt, sinful dispositions and defective reasoning? Three things: the blood of Jesus, the Word of God and the Spirit of God. I’ll cover this in Part 3.
~ Gerson Robles