From Justification to Sanctification
Ask if any class member speaks or reads French. Give written statement with instruction to read when asked.
Today we embark on a study of Romans 6 + 7. In order to adequately grasp the teaching of these chapters we must first understand their place in the larger argument of the book. The Apostle Paul’s great passion in the opening five chapters of Romans is to establish that God has placed certain rebellious and undeserving humans into a new and special relationship with himself wherein they are shielded forever from his awful wrath. This astonishing feat is accomplished by means of Christ’s cross and encompasses personal faith. In fact, the overarching theme of the entire book is the gospel with a targeted emphasis on justification by faith. Let’s see how this plays out.
Ask class to suggest major teachings of Romans 1-5.
1. The human condition is so desperate that only the power of the gospel can produce deliverance. 1:16-17.
2. All men understand by creation and conscience that there is a God to whom they must give an account. 1:18-21; 2:15-16.
3. There are no exceptions to the rule that all men stand under the curse of the holy God and can not remedy their situation by doing good works or anything else. 3:9-11, 19-20.
4. Our only hope is justification by faith alone. 3:21-28. Ask “what is another name for 3:21-28”? (The Gospel)
And in fact that is precisely how God has solved our dilemma. Here is what we know. He who has faith in the cross of Christ has been legally declared righteous by God even though he is not. Abraham is an historical example of this 4:3. So this is true for all who believe 4:23-25.
5. All those who have been justified are at peace with God and exempt from his eternal wrath. 5:9.
6. Every person participates in the sin of Adam and some also participate in the righteousness of Christ. 5:18-19. This huge principle, called the representative principle, is basic to everything in chapters 5-8..
7. Grace flows abundantly to those sinners who participate in the righteousness of Christ. Grace is everything! 5: 20-21.
What we have then is a great statement regarding the believer’s status with God – he has been and is presently declared righteous.
Ask class to identify difference between the statement that justification is being made righteous and the statement that justification is being declared righteous.
The fact that we are declared righteous rather than made righteous is what produces the tension and frustration of Romans 6-7.
So, indeed, the guilt of sin no longer clings to us. That is, even though we are yet sinners, we are placed on par with Christ himself – his righteousness has been imputed or credited to us. Our standing with God has been changed. And this is a once and for all permanent change. I know this is hard to believe, but it is true. And it is God’s perspective! Our standing or status with God in heaven is that He treats us as if we are righteous. He can do this because Jesus has taken our place and the Father deals with him instead of us (= substitutionary atonement). Intellectually it is hard to grasp this. 2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are the updated NASV.
What should our response be to this great doctrine of free grace? Answer: a godly life.
Thus, the topic of discussion in these two chapters is not Justification, our legal position before God; it is rather Sanctification, living the Christian life. The term means to be set apart for God; thus consecrated or dedicated or committed or loyal (a`gia,zw various lexicons).
So the attention turns to our present or actual state as we live here on earth. In one sense we are sanctified at the time we are justified. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ¶ Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (these two phrases are identical in grammatical construction). We may call this initial sanctification or being newly set apart to God. We are delivered from sinning as the hallmark of life. Chapter 6 makes it clear that we are no longer slaves to sin. (cf 17-18). So, our freedom from the rule of sin saturates this whole section.
On the other hand, note the tension between 6:13 and 14 – don’t let sin rule vs sin will not rule. So, when we enter into this new standing before God that we call justification, we also embark on a life long journey that we call sanctification. It is the process of becoming like Christ whose righteousness shields us from the wrath of God. Spiritual growth or maturity is a good designator. This process is dependent upon being justified first.
Here is the Operating Assumption: When we are justified we do not become sinless. We still live as sinners in a sinful world. Even though we have been “set apart” to God (the basic meaning of the word sanctify as above), we still struggle with pleasing self rather than pleasing God. None-the-less, the process of maturing in Christ begins at justification.
So the concept of sanctification recognizes the difference between our standing before God and our state in the world. They are not the same.
But generally we must say that there exits a common thread between justification and sanctification. Both are God centered. We can not live godly lives in our own strength any more than we can save ourselves. We are utterly dependent upon God.
Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
We must admit that the sanctification process is a life long process that is never complete while we live on this earth. We will not become what we ought to be while we are earthly citizens. 1 John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
But here is what we can not miss: believers are commanded to live holy lives. In fact, God commands us to change and become different persons. 1 Peter 1:16 because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." Furthermore, spiritual growth will actually happen for the genuine believer. It is a normal phenomenon. 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. And, imperatives appear even in Romans 6 (cf 6:11,12). It is this notion that Paul tackles. He now raises a basic issue we all grapple with. How should we respond to the great concept that God’s grace reigns and consequently we are justified?
Well obviously, we should live so that God is first in our lives. But what can we do to change from a self centered life to a God centered one? Perhaps we can frame the essence of the matter more specifically with some questions:
- How can we actually live like we have in fact been justified? Or can we?
- Or… How can our present state here on earth more closely approximate our standing before God in heaven? Or can it?
- Or… How can we break the iron fisted rule of sin over us? Or can we? In fact, “sin” appears 30x in these two chapters.
If I have not made it obvious to this point, let me now be clear: Sanctification is all about CHANGE. Growing in Christ is all about change. Maturing spiritually is all about changing. Romans 6-7 is about change.
Ask class to give a working definition (personal, non- dictionary) of change.
Suggestion: Change might be moving from what or where we are to what or where we ought or want to be.
Consequently, as we go along in our study, I will be presenting a model for lasting change by identifying useful tools to put into a Toolkit for Lasting Change. This model is based on Romans 6 and 7 rather than psychological concepts or concordant study.
Perhaps these two chapters could be organized around the questions of 6:1; 6:15; 7:7; 7:13. They are identical “what therefore” (Ti, ou=n) except that 7:13 is only ou=n. In fact, this question and answer format is a favorite way Paul employs to lay out arguments in Romans (10x) – 3:1: 3:9; 4:1; 6:1; 6:15; 7:7; 8:31; 9:14; 9:30; 11:7.
#1 Should we sin habitually so that God’s glorious grace is lavishly displayed? 6:1-14. The answer is that sin is never a good thing even if it results in God’s glory.
#2 Should we sin with impunity given that we are presently ruled by grace rather than the Law? 6:15-7:6. The answer is that we are now slaves to righteousness rather than sin.
#3 Should we conclude that the Law itself is sinful because it brings awareness of personal sin? 7:7-12. The answer is that the Law is supremely good.
#4 Should we give up the pursuit of spiritual maturity in light of our constant struggle with sin? 7:13-25. The answer is that ultimate victory is found in Jesus Christ.
So we begin with the text itself…
I. Sin is never a good thing even if it results in God’s glory 6:1-14
The fact of our being justified through grace alone must never be taken as authorization to sin. The reference of the question “what shall we say then?” of v 1 is probably to the assertion of Romans 5:20 – “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” It is a great statement of the amazing undeserved grace applied to sinners like you and me. This is everything.
So the first section (6:1-14) begins with an objection that Paul himself suggests. He might be anticipating how some might respond to this strong teaching on grace and justification; namely, by flippantly declaring, “let’s just sin more so that grace slurps everywhere and as a bonus God will receive more glory”. This is clearly not acceptable.
Paul may have also been concerned that some would misunderstand his teaching of justification by faith alone without works of the law to mean that he was also teaching that one could ignore God’s law - antinomianism. (As opposed to the other extreme, legalism, that says one must keep a prescribed set of external rules in order to be spiritual). Or perhaps more broadly, Paul may have been concerned that those who were justified might just kick back and not even attempt to live a godly life. After all, they have safely gained admission to heaven and the door is locked behind them!
- Sinning for God’s glory is clearly at odds with both reason and the Scripture v1
The mere suggestion that sin is a fitting response to grace is is biblical nonsense ! Can a Christian consider this? Think about the absurdity – a holy God encouraging unholy living. Jesus himself speaks of this unifying principle in a similar manner on a different subject - Mark 3:24 "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
The word picture is that of grace overflowing (pleona,sh|). It is everywhere – all because of sin…
Illustration: my former neighbor who thought putting chemicals on the yard to get rid of dandelions was a sure fire way to destroy his family and the planet. But he apparently didn’t think he should have to get down on his hands and knees and dig them out either. So much to his neighbor’s dismay his lawn was a sea of yellow! The little neighborhood kids could pick “flowers” for mommy forever. So the way to have a world full of yellow grace is to sin!
Further, such reasoning assumes that God is bound to display grace upon those who are intentionally and habitually sinning (“the sin). The word “continue” means to habitually remain in sin as a pattern of life evpime,nw. So Paul is not talking about acts of sin believers commit in the normal course of life due to their sin nature.
Then there are passages like: Galatians 5:13 ¶ For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh…. 1 Peter 2:16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.
The landscape of western evangelicalism is discouraging in light of this passage. Easy-believism is rampant. People are not called to holy living – just add Jesus. Pray a prayer, sign a card, walk the aisle, and etc. Religious leaders are a sham. O Lord, deliver us from this perverseness.
But let’s be honest about something else. We Christians easily do exactly what Paul fears. Oh, theologically we may get it right. But practically, even if on small scales, we sometimes close our eyes to sin knowing all the while that God will forgive. O how foolish we are! One author cleverly catches the flavor of the mindset, “I like committing crimes, God likes forgiving them. Really the world is admirably arranged.” (citation in Moo 356).
Illustration: D. A. Carson, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, used to meet with a young man from French West Africa for the purpose of practicing their German. He writes:
Once a week or so, we had had enough, so we went out for a meal together and retreated to French, a language we both knew well. In the course of those meals we got to know each other. I learned that his wife was in London, training to be a medical doctor. He was an engineer who needed fluency in German in order to pursue doctoral studies in engineering in Germany.
I soon discovered that once or twice a week he disappeared into the red-light district of town. Obviously he went to pay his money and have his woman.
Eventually I got to know him well enough that I asked him what he would do if he discovered that his wife was doing something similar in London.
"Oh," he said, "I'd kill her."
"That's a bit of a double standard, isn't it?" I asked.
"You don't understand. Where I come from in Africa, the husband has the right to sleep with many women, but if a wife is unfaithful to her husband she must be killed."
"But you told me you were raised in a mission school. You know that the God of the Bible does not have double standards like that."
He gave me a bright smile and replied…
To be read in French by class volunteer: "Ah, le bon Dieu, il doit nous pardonner; c'est son metier” [translation: Ah, God is good. He's bound to forgive us; that's his job].D. A. Carson, "God's Love and God's Wrath," Bibliotheca Sacra (October 1999), p. 387; submitted by Aaron Goerner, New Hartford
Illustration: Before John Newton, the famous 18th century English pastor, penned Amazing Grace, he was a slave trading sea captain who engaged in every kind of wicked behavior.
His headstone in the yard of his church carries this epitaph he wrote himself:
John Newton, Clerk,
Once an infidel and libertine,
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior,
Preserved, restored, pardoned,
And appointed to preach the faith
He had long labored to destroy.
Study 6:2-4. Jot down a thought or two about what you think dying to sin is all about. Be prepared to share in class next week.
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2017. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.