Sanctification — Its Value
Personal holiness can never put away sin or save us. It has no value as touching our acceptance, or justification, before the face of God. But we must not conclude from this that it has little value. Outside of the article of justification, holiness cannot be too highly commended.
Sanctification is a beautiful thing, for the Bible speaks of "the beauties of holiness." Ps. 110:3. "Sanctification is the first fruit of the Spirit; it is heaven begun in the soul. Sanctification and glory differ only in degree: Sanctification is glory in the seed, and glory is sanctification in the flower." —Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity. Sanctification is a glorious process, for the apostle declares:
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Cor. 3:18.
First let us speak of the value which God places upon holiness. The Word declares that the adorning of "the hidden man of the heart" with "a meek and quiet spirit. . . is in the sight of God of great price." 1 Pet. 3:4. And says the writer to the Hebrews,". . . to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." Heb. 13:16. The kindness of the Philippians toward the apostle Paul is called "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God." Phil. 4:18. John says that the righteous "keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight." 1 John 3:22.
Then we must not forget that the Bible clearly teaches that the saints will finally be judged and rewarded according to their works (Rev. 22:14; Rom. 2:6; etc.). This does not mean they will be rewarded because of their works, but according to their works. The reward is of grace, but the happiness of the saints in glory and their joy and capacity for service in the hereafter will have some reference to their present faithfulness to Christ.
Says that great Puritan scholar, John Owen:
We must also consider, that holiness is not confined to this life, but passes over into eternity and glory. Death has no power to destroy it; or divest us of it. Its acts indeed are transient, but its fruits abide for ever in their reward. They who die in the Lord rest from their labours, "and their works follow them," Rev. 14:13. "God is not unrighteous to forget their labour of love," Heb. 6:10. There is not any fruit of holiness, not the least, not the giving "a cup of cold water to a disciple of Christ, in the name of a disciple," but it shall be had in everlasting remembrance, and abide for ever in its eternal reward.
Nothing shall be lost, but all the fragments shall be gathered up, and kept safe for ever. Every thing else in this world, however specious, shall be burnt up and consumed as "hay and stubble;" when the least, the meanest, the most secret fruit of holiness, shall be gathered as 'gold and silver' into God's treasury, and become a part of the riches of the inheritance of the saints in glory. Let no soul fear the loss of any labour in the duties of holiness, in the most secret contest against sin, for inward purity, for outward fruitfulness, in the mortification of sin, resistance of temptations, in self-denial, or contentment; all that you know, and what you do not know, shall be revived, called over, and abide eternally in its reward. — John Owen, The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 1967), pp.224, 225.
Did Luther despise good works? Listen:
Outside the article of justification we cannot sufficiently praise and magnify these works which are commanded by God. For who can sufficiently commend and set forth the profit and fruit of only one work which a Christian does through faith and in faith? Indeed, it is more precious than heaven or earth. (St.L.IX:442f.)
We teach that to reconcile to God, to make righteous, to blot out sin, is so high and great and glorious a work that alone Christ, the Son of God, could do it and that this is indeed such a pure, special, peculiar work of the one true God and His grace that our works are nothing and can do nothing. But that therefore good works should be nothing or be worth only a penny, who ever heard of such a thing, or who could teach such a thing except the lying mouth of the devil? I would not give up one of my sermons, not one of my lectures, not one of my treatises, not one of my Lord's Prayers, nay, whatever small work I have ever done or am doing, for all the riches of the world . . . — Cited by F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol.3, pp.59, 60.