Friday, October 5, 2012

On Justification & Sanctification

Last week, Jared put this tweet up on the Christians in Context twitter feed:
"To the extent that you look to and trust in your justification, to that same extent you also grow in your sanctification."

I thought I would take a post to offer a few reflections on this tweet. While I will demur with some aspects of it, nothing should be taken in any other way than in iron sharpening iron. It is also entirely possible that I am over thinking a simple tweet but since the tweet caused me to reflect and since the tweet (I think) reflects, at least to some degree, a view of sanctification that is floating around in the evangelical world, I thought I would use it as a spring board for some thoughts.

First, I appreciate the sentiment that this tweet is expressing. Who has not grown in their sanctification by reflecting on their justification? Who hasn't had their heart warmed in its love for the LORD by reflecting on all that justification entails? When I pounder that my sole righteousness is found in Christ alone, and that righteousness is freely imputed to me, I have a motivation for holiness. As a pastor I have reminded people where they stand based upon Christ's imputed righteousness and used that ground as a pivot for the imperative of holiness. Precisely when I reflect on how much I cannot accomplish in my salvation, and that my salvation is all of grace, I realize that I live in completely freedom in Christ. True freedom in Christ always leads to a growth in holiness.

Second, I'm a little concerned about the language of "trusting your justification." I cannot think of any Biblical exhortation that we put trust in our justification. Certainly, we do not trust in justification to receive it and let me state clearly: the tweet is in no way advocating this. But there is nowhere in Scripture that growing in Christ involves trusting our justification. We are to trust Christ. Although, again clearly knowing we are justified in Christ does cause growth. The thing about twitter is of course space is limited.

Of course, trusting Christ will entail trusting the truthfulness of the full verdict of righteousness the Father has given us in Christ by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Nevertheless, the object of faith is never the verdict itself. The object is Christ. And I trust the truthfulness of the verdict because I trust Him. I trust the declaration because I trust the declarer of it (the Father) and the ground on which it lies (Christ's death and resurrection). 

Finally, while reflecting on justification in profitable, it is not the primary means of our sanctification. Here I am thinking of a larger debate in the Reformed world that has spilled over into the Young, Restless and Reformed. I hope Jared will forgive me if I am reading to much of this background into the tweet.

How do I grow in sanctification? There is a popular view that sees sanctification as largely a subset of justification, distinct but still subordinate. Thus, we are exhorted that the primary (some might even say the only) way we grow in our sanctification is by becoming more comfortable with our justification. Some might even acknowledge a 'third use of the Law,' but in practice the exhortation of law is always bad, the gospel is truncated largely to simply justification and therefore sanctification is simply a matter of me 'getting used to' or fully realizing the justification I have.

I do not think this has sufficient warrant to the Biblical text.

Rather the proper context in which we should locate justification and sanctification is within the larger category of union with Christ. Thus, in Romans 6, sanctification is no merely 'getting used to my justification from chapters 3, 4 and 5. Rather sanctification flows from my full participation with Christ in his death and resurrection. I have died with Christ (which is more than justification) so now I should be living in Christ because I am actually raised up with Christ.

Paul's consistent use of union with Christ then leads from indicative to imperative. Indicative is who you are. Imperative is how you should now live. Indicative includes justification but it also includes sanctification. Why? Because I am now fundamentally and irreducibly in Christ. I have been given the Spirit, I am a product of the eschatological age--now I should live like it precisely because I have been reformed and equipped to live in it.

Back to the original tweet, there is not a simple one-to-one correspondence between reflecting on justification and growing in sanctification. If I ground my justification in what Christ has done and that I now have the verdict He secured because I am united to Him (and so the righteousness is imputed to me), it is out of that same union that the grace of sanctification flows to me. Justification and sanctification are always distinct, but inseparable because the grace of God comes through the believer's union to Christ.

UPDATE:
Today (10/8/12), Kevin DeYoung posted this great tweet, which gets at what I was trying to say, only better and in less than 144 characters.
"Justification is precious fuel for our sanctification; it's just not the only thing we can put in the tank."


1 comment:

BigMitt said...

Thank you for your thoughtful approach to these issues. If you're interested, I published an article regarding this a few months ago:
http://www.affinity.org.uk/foundations-issues/issue-62-article-1---the-relationship-between-pauls-soteriology-and-his-ethics