How to Live the Victorious Life

6. The Need for a Constant Return to Justification

Since the life of holiness is fueled and fired by justification by faith, sanctification must constantly return to justification. Otherwise, the Christian cannot possibly escape arriving at a new self-righteousness. We cannot reach a point in sanctification where our fellowship with God does not rest completely on forgiveness of sins.

This is why Luther called justification the article of the standing or falling church. He confessed that his whole soul and ministry were saturated with the truth of justification. This is why he bitterly complained against the evangelical radicals who regarded sanctification, or the new life in the Spirit, as the higher stage in the soteriological process. The man who thinks he can get beyond justification by grace falls from grace (Gal. 5:4).

In fact, the major aspect of sanctification is a growing appreciation of our need of God's justification through Jesus Christ. Growing toward Christian maturity does not mean being weaned from our dependence on imputed righteousness. The man who is strong in faith is strong in the doctrine of grace. He becomes more and more overwhelmed and bowed down with the sense of God's mercy and increasingly affixed to justification by the merits of Christ alone.

Says G.C. Berkouwer:
    The believer's constant"commerce" with forgiveness of sins and his continued dependence on it must — both in pastoral counseling and in dogmatic analysis — be laid bare, emphasized, and kept in sight. Only thus can we keep at bay the spectre of haughtiness — "as if we had made ourselves to differ". —G.C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification, p.84.
Or worse yet, if in our zeal for sanctification we fail to keep the preeminence of justification before us, we will get lost in a "minute concern with inwardness." —Ibid., p. 86. "History shows how easy it is to get lost when one treats of internal grace." — Ibid. Our only safety is a constant return to the objective truth of salvation by the outside-of-me righteousness of Christ.

Therefore, we must affirm that the essential mainspring of sanctification is to remember. The way of sanctification is to remember what has happened and what has been given to us. It is amazing how often this point is emphasized both in the Old and New Testament. Israel's ethical action was to be constantly undergirded and inspired by her remembrance of what had happened and what had been given to her (see Deut. 5:15). As long as Israel remembered God's redemptive acts in the beginning of her history, she would persevere in the way of holiness. If she forgot what had happened and lost sight of what was given her, she was sure to swerve from the way of holiness.

    Our fathers understood not Thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of Thy mercies; but provoked Him at the sea, even at the Red Sea. Nevertheless He saved them for His name's sake, that He might make His mighty power to be known. He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it was dried up: so He led them through the depths, as through the wilderness. And He saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left. Then believed they His words; they sang His praise. They soon forgot His works; they waited not for His counsel.... They forgot God their Saviour, which had done great things in Egypt; wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red Sea.... Yea, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not His Word.... — Ps. 106:7-13, 21, 22, 24.
When the prophets exhorted Israel to put away her sins and live in holy obedience, they based their appeals to ethical conduct on the fact that God had delivered Israel from Egypt. Israel's future success depended upon remembering her past.

The New Testament church is also founded on a concrete, historical act of deliverance. The deliverance from Egypt serves as a type of God's real act of liberation in the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ has died and has risen again, and by faith the church has become a participant, a sharer, in all that Christ has done. By the work of Jesus Christ on her behalf, she is free from sin and justified in the sight of God. Yet she must remember what has happened and what has been given to her. As Christ Himself broke the bread and divided the cup, He said, ". . . this do in remembrance of Me." 1 Cor. 11:24. God's people have nothing to fear for the future except they forget what has happened in their inaugural history.

The triumph of the Christ event is concrete, irreversible, immutable. This is where Paul rests his case in his triumphant Romans 8 passage. He entertains no fears for "things present, nor things to come" (v. 38), because he remembers what has happened in the past (v. 34). And when he had occasion to exhort the immature Christian communities whom he found lapsing into such "fleshly" things as quarreling, lying or sloth, he saluted them as saints (1 Cor. 1:2). With words fresh from glory, he took them by the ears and reminded them what had happened in the Christ event and that by faith they were sharers in all that Christ had done and suffered. Yes, he told these faulty, fumbling, stumbling believers that they were dead (Col. 3:3; Rom 6:6), risen (Eph.2:1-6) and free (Rom. 7:4). Having shown them what they were, he showed how their unchrist-like behavior was inconsistent with their privileged position. Then he warned them that those who continued in Christ-denying behavior would not inherit the kingdom (see Eph.5:3-6). The factious Corinthians had to be reminded of the gospel. The apostle wrote to them:
    Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. —1 Cor. 15:1, 2.
The Epistles of Paul were written to encourage growth (sanctification) in people who were already believers. This point is very significant. Yet how did the apostle go about to promote such growth in grace? Every Epistle was a mighty call to remember what had happened in the Christ event and how believers are justified by faith in God's redemptive action in Jesus Christ. Every Pauline Epistle, therefore, is an immutable testimony that the church can make progress in sanctification only in proportion to its grasp of justification. Each Epistle is a call to remember. The church is never led away from the first blessing to look for a "second blessing."
    It [the church] must feed on the first blessing, the forgiveness of sins. The warfare of the church, according to Scriptural testimony, springs from the demand really to live from this first blessing. — Ibid., p. 64.
Intro | Legally | Psychologically | Effectively| Positionally | Examples | Need | Principles | Conclusion
Go to top