Faith Works: Properly Understanding the Relationship between Justification and Sanctification
Matthew Barrett, executive editor of Credo Magazine, has edited a new book with Crossway titled, The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls: Justification in Biblical, Theological, Historical, and Pastoral Perspective. Many factors contributed to the Protestant Reformation, but one of the most significant was the debate over the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In fact, Martin Luther argued that justification is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. This comprehensive volume of 26 essays from a host of scholars explores the doctrine of justification from the lenses of history, the Bible, theology, and pastoral practice—revealing the enduring significance of this pillar of Protestant theology.
Today we are highlighting Luke Stamp’s chapter “Justification and Sanctification.” Here is an excerpt to get you started:
Given this long history of debate over the precise relationship between justification and sanctification, what can we say by way of a constructive theological argument? I remain convinced by the evidence—most fundamentally in Scripture but also acknowledged in Calvin and the subsequent Reformed tradition—that justification and sanctification should be seen as distinct but inseparable gifts that flow from union with Christ and that justification has a certain priority over sanctification even within this integrative motif of union with Christ. This argument assumes the abiding validity of the ordo salutis as a useful rubric for speaking about the relationships between certain aspects of redemption. While a full-orbed biblical soteriology should be thoroughly grounded in the historia salutis—the economy of salvation played out on the stage of redemptive history—this historical context does not preclude the possibility that Scripture also teaches a certain ordering within the work of Christ and its application to believers by the Holy Spirit.
With these comments in place, I proceed to offer an extended proposition regarding Reformed soteriology, in the form of five theological statements, each of which is treated in turn:
(1) Justification and sanctification are inseparable gifts of redemption because they flow from the unified work of the triune God and his electing, redeeming, and renewing mercy. (2) Despite their inseparability, justification and sanctification are notionally distinct gifts that signify the forensic and the transformative aspects of redemption, respectively. (3) Even within the integrative category of union with Christ, there are distinct aspects, namely, the decretal, forensic, and mystical. (4) Therefore, framing all redemption in terms of union with Christ does not preclude the possibility of an ordering within the unified work of redemption. (5) Hence, justification has logical priority over sanctification as its objective ground and subjective motivational wellspring.
Justification and sanctification are inseparable gifts of redemption because they flow from the unified work of the triune God and his electing, redeeming, and renewing mercy.
Justification and sanctification, like all the benefits of redemption, are gifts of God’s gratuitous mercy. Even sanctification, which enlists the cooperation of human effort, remains a gift of mercy. The fact that the New Testament uses the same term to describe the decisive consecration of believers at their conversion (definitive sanctification; e.g., 1 Cor. 6:11) and their ongoing growth in holiness (progressive sanctification; e.g., 1 Thess. 5:23) should clue us in to this reality. While sanctification is in some sense synergistic, encompassing the work of the sanctifying God and the works of the sanctified human agent, the priority of grace remains. We could even speak of sanctification, no less than justification, as a gift believers receive by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, at least in terms of the definitive cause of holiness in the lives of the elect.
Justification and sanctification remain inseparable because of their unity in the saving intention of God. The benefits of redemption are not like a buffet of options, piled into a compartmentalized cafeteria tray. They are more like a well-sourced and carefully crafted four-course meal prepared by a master chef and properly integrated so that each course leads irresistibly to the next. The Reformed tradition has rightly discerned in Scripture the permanence and invincibility of God’s saving work in the lives of the elect—what has sometimes been referred to as the eternal security of the believer. But as we saw above, that particular locution is open to misrepresentation and abuse. The preferred historical term has been “the perseverance of the saints,” which highlights not only God’s work of preserving the elect but also their grace-enabled but no less necessary perseverance in the faith. As Calvin put it in his Antidote to the Council of Trent, “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone. . . . Wherefore do not separate the whole grace of regeneration from faith.”
Furthermore, the scriptural teaching on a final judgment according to works precludes any kind of antinomian indifference to the actual righteousness of believers (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17). Believers are justified by faith alone, but they will experience a final judgment according to works, where their good works are brought forth not as the legal ground of their vindication but as the necessary evidence of their faith union with Christ. As one Baptist confession puts it, “All true believers endure to the end. . . . They shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” Being kept (preservation) and enduring to the end (perseverance) belong together. This foregrounding of the believer’s perseverance hardly counts as a slide into a nomistic understanding of “staying in” a state of grace (how could it, given the radical nature of grace expressed in the larger Reformed soteriological scheme?). Instead, it merely seeks to hold together the unified work of God in the lives of the elect: a work of both pardon and deliverance, both justification and sanctification. It is this holistic work of God that prompts the believer to say, in the words of the old hymn by Augustus Toplady,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.
The healing work of Christ produces a “double cure”: the legal deliverance from sin’s consequences and the transformative deliverance from sin’s corrupting influence.
This unified work of salvation issues forth not from some generic divine benevolence but from the triune God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The inseparability of justification and sanctification is grounded in the inseparability of Trinitarian operations. According to the doctrine of appropriation, we may speak of the electing Father, the redeeming Son, and the regenerating Holy Spirit, but in each of these works of divine mercy, it is the undivided Godhead who is working inseparably to bring about the salvation of the elect. God is one and acts as one. The benefits of redemption are inseparable because they flow from the unified work of the triune God. We can further spell out this first theological statement in several additional Trinitarian propositions.
Justification and sanctification are inseparable gifts of redemption because they are grounded in the Father’s free and electing mercy.
The Father’s intention in election is to reckon sinners to be “in Christ” for the purpose of holiness and blamelessness (Eph. 1:4). His predestinating mercy has as its penultimate goal the adoption of the elect as sons of God through his beloved firstborn Son, Jesus Christ (1:5). It has as its ultimate goal the “praise of his glorious grace” (1:6) through the exaltation of Christ as the elder brother of the company of the redeemed, the renewed family of God (Rom. 8:29).
Justification and sanctification are inseparable gifts of redemption because they were secured in and by the person of Christ, in whom divinity and humanity are hypostatically united.
As we saw above, union with Christ has sometimes been parsed in terms of decretal union, forensic union, and mystical union. We can also speak of this union with Christ in terms of three “moments”: the eternal moment of election in Christ; the redemptive-historical moment of the believer’s identification with Christ in his incarnation, life, death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:1–4; Gal. 2:20); and the existential moment when the believer is brought by faith into a personal, organic union with Christ. The center category is secured in Christ himself. Union with Christ means most fundamentally union with his person, and in his person Christ is constituted as the believer’s wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). Calvin makes use of an incarnational analogy in order to demonstrate the inseparability of justification and sanctification: “As Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparable—namely, righteousness and sanctification. Whomever, therefore, God receives into grace, on them he at the same time bestows the spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15).” Justification and sanctification can no more be separated in the lives of believers than they can be in the person of Christ himself.
Justification and sanctification are inseparable gifts of redemption because they were accomplished by the “whole course” of Christ’s obedience, not merely one aspect of his work abstracted from the others.
The integral relationship between justification and sanctification is grounded not only in Christ’s person but also in his mediatorial work. And while many evangelicals tend to truncate Christ’s work of atonement to comprise only his work on the cross (and then only in terms of its forensic aspect), the New Testament places the climactic scene at Golgotha within the broader drama of Christ’s holistic work—what Calvin referred to as “the whole course of Christ’s obedience.” Christ accomplishes redemption not only through his wrath-bearing, Serpent-crushing death but also through his righteousness-fulfilling life (Matt. 3:15; Gal. 4:4), his justification securing resurrection (Rom. 4:25), his glorious ascension to and session at the Father’s right hand, his gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, his ongoing priestly intercession, and his final return in power and glory. The application of redemption is holistic and unified because its accomplishment in Christ is holistic and unified.
Justification and sanctification are inseparable gifts of redemption because they are applied to the elect by the Holy Spirit, who unites them to Christ by faith.
The work accomplished by Christ is applied to the elect by Christ’s Spirit. The Spirit gives birth to faith, which alone is the instrument of justification. Salvation comes not by good works but by the regenerating and renewing work of the Spirit (Titus 3:5). But the Spirit who unites the elect by faith to the justifying verdict in Christ also consecrates them in Christ for a life of holiness and growth toward perfection (Gal. 3:3). It is with good reason that the Reformed tradition, stemming from Calvin himself, has grounded both justification and sanctification in the Spirit’s work of uniting believers to Christ. As Calvin writes, “To sum up, the Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself.” The faith that unites believers to Christ forensically in justification and sustains them organically in an ongoing relationship to Christ is the result of the Spirit’s work. “But faith is the principal work of the Holy Spirit,” Calvin states; “by faith alone he leads us into the light of the gospel.”
So in sum, justification and sanctification are inseparable in the experience of the elect because they are inseparable in the saving intention of the triune God. They can no more be divided than can the persons of the Trinity or the two natures of Christ. Thus, to make sanctification some optional add-on to the settled verdict rendered in justification is to make a mistake of grave proportions. Justification is a settled verdict, founded on the righteousness of Christ alone and received by faith alone, but it always and inevitably brings about the sanctification of those justified. Therefore, all forms of antinomianism are excluded by the unified saving intentionality of the triune God.
Read Dr. Stamp’s entire chapter in The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls.
 For a helpful cataloging of critics of the ordo, see J. V. Fesko, Beyond Calvin: Union with Christ and Justification in Early Modern Reformed Theology (1517–1700), RHT 20 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 53–71.
 John Calvin, Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1975), 198.
 For a discussion of the diverse views on the role of good works in salvation, see Alan P. Stanley, ed., Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, Counterpoints: Bible and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).
 Baptist Faith and Message, 5.
 Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.6.
 For a fuller treatment of the active obedience of Christ, see chap. 14, by Brandon Crowe, in this volume.
 Calvin, Institutes, 2.16.5. Perhaps no one in contemporary theology has made more profound use of this Calvinian theme than Thomas F. Torrance. See, e.g., Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008).
 For a biblical overview of each aspect of Christ’s work, see Robert A. Peterson, Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).
 Calvin, Institutes, 3.1.1.
 Calvin, Institutes, 3.1.4.