Larger Catechism, #77

The Larger Catechism

Question 77

77.       Q. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?

A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification,[330] yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ;[331] in sanctification of his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof;[332] in the former, sin is pardoned;[333] in the other, it is subdued:[334] the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation[335] the other is neither equal in all,[336] nor in this life perfect in any,[337] but growing up to perfection.[338]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[330] 1 Corinthians 6:11. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 1:30. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. [331] Romans 4:6, 8. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works…. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. [332] Ezekiel 36:27. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. [333] Romans 3:24-25. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. [334] Romans 6:6, 14. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin…. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. [335] Romans 8:33-34. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. [336] 1 John 2:12-14. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. Hebrews 5:12-14. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. [337] 1 John 1:8, 10. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [338] 2 Corinthians 7:1. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Philippians 3:12-14. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Introduction

Confusing these two important doctrines leads not only to heresy but also consigns one to a miserable spiritual life. Observing careful distinctions between justification and sanctification enables the believer to understand his standing and calling. Murky thoughts on these matters affect us practically. Clarity is required. These are not trivial matters; they go at the heart of the gospel.

We are well aware of our “sanctification” or the lack thereof. This doctrine stares us in the face — we cannot avoid its reality. We know if we are growing in grace and if we are not. In a sense (though not completely), we can say that we recognize this doctrine by sight whereas the doctrine of justification is by faith. We are justified by faith alone and we also recognize our justification as an act of faith. Something of sanctification can be seen but justification is a declaration before God to be received by faith. For this reason, we tend to size up our justification in terms of our sanctification and this can only lead to misery.

 

Same and Different

There are several ways in which they are the same. Both of these benefits come to us by God’s grace. These benefits are found in all God’s children and therefore each child of God is justified and sanctified. They are inseparably joined in the elect of God, as the LC says, Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification… One cannot be justified and not sanctified; one cannot be declared righteous while at the same time not progressively made holy. The two verses used to prove this simple point are 1Cor. 6:11 and 1 Cor. 1:30. Paul says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The Corinthians were both sanctified and justified. Jesus “became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1Cor. 1:30). The Savior who justified us is the same Lord who sanctifies us.

From the connection which there is between justification and sanctification, we infer that no one has ground to conclude that his sins are pardoned, and that he shall be saved, while he is in an unsanctified state. For as such a supposition tends to turn the grace of God into wantonness; so it separates what he has joined together, and, in those who entertain it, is a certain evidence that they are neither justified nor sanctified. Let us therefore give diligence to evince the truth of our justification, by our sanctification; or that we have a right and title to Christ’s righteousness, by the life of faith, and the exercise of all those other graces which accompany or flow from it.[1]

 Though “inseparably joined”, the two radically differ from each other. Justification and sanctification differ in the following ways[2]

Justification is:

1. An act of God’s free grace.

2. An act by which God imputes Christ’s righteousness.

3. An act in which God pardons sin.

4. Total and equal in all cases.

5. Complete and perfect in this life.

6. A judicial verdict which frees from condemnation and awards eternal life.

Sanctification is:

1. A work of God’s free grace.

2. A work by which God infuses grace and power.

3. A work in which God subdues sin.

4. Different in degree in different persons.

5. Incomplete and imperfect in this life.

 

Impute vs. Infuse

What stands out are the two different verbs, impute and infuse. The LC says, “yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification of his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof…” In justification, God “accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight” (LC #70).[3] God accounts Christ’s righteousness as our own. The word “impute” comes from the Latin imputare which means to ‘enter into an account.’ We are considered, accounted, legally viewed as righteous in God’s sight. Rom. 4:6, 8 states, “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works…. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” In the ESV, “to whom God counts righteousness apart from works.”

In sanctification, the person is already accounted righteous (his justification) and enabled to walk in a holy manner like Ezek. 36:27 states, “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” The divines use the phrase “his Spirit infuseth grace” – that is, He puts into us grace and enables us to act upon that energy. Ridgley says, “the graces of the Spirit are wrought and excited in us.” John Dick helpfully develops this distinction:

In justification, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us; in sanctification, an inherent righteousness is communicated; and upon the whole it appears, that in justification we receive a title to heaven, and by sanctification we are prepared for it, or “made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”[4]

Justification imputes Christ’s righteousness and sanctification infuses the power to live a holy life. Justification is done for us and sanctification is done in us. Conversely, sanctification does not justify us; our justification is not based on our sanctification.[5]

So in sanctification, we really do become holy; in justification, we really are not made personally righteous in the truest sense. John Dick put it like this,

To be really righteous, and to be righteous by imputation, or, in the language of our church, to be accepted as righteous, are, I presume, two things exceedingly different. Jesus Christ himself is truly, and in the strictest sense, righteous; but those who believe in him are only accounted righteous.[6]

Pardoned and Subdued

These benefits that come to us in our union with Christ relate to sin. They relate to it differently: in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued…” In justification, our sins are forgiven or pardoned (in addition to imputing Christ’s righteousness to us; see Rom. 4:7, 8; cf. Ps. 32:1, 2 where justification and forgiveness are related). For Christ’s sake, God forgives our sins and does not count them against us but declares us righteous in His sight. The same person thus forgiven is not left unchanged. The other blessing that inseparably comes to believers has to do with his ability to overcome and subdue sin. As Romans 6:6, 14 says, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin…. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” The believer has pardoned sins and power over sin. Ridgley says, “The former takes away its guilt; the latter its reigning power. When sin is pardoned, it shall not be our ruin; yet it gives us daily disturbance and uneasiness, makes work for repentance, and is to be opposed by our dying to it, and living to righteousness.”[7]

As God forgives us of our sins, He also enables us to fight sin. Sin shall not have dominion over us. Believers no longer live in or for sin. He has died to sin; he has been pardoned of and rescued from his sin.

 

Equal and Unequal

Justification does not come to us in “degrees.” It is not a process but a completed action. The LC says, “the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.”

Each believer no longer lives under the judicial wrath of God. We are all equally free from the revenging wrath of God. We are perfectly or completely free from the wrath of God in this life and will never fall back into condemnation. No brother is less under God’s wrath than another; no believer is accounted more righteous than another. Justification admits of no degree; we are completely and perfectly forgiven, declared righteousness and no longer under the wrath of God. When it comes to justification, God has no favorites. Romans 8:33, 34 states, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” God views all His elect as a class. They are all justified; none are condemned. Dick’s words, once again, bring clarity, “The one, therefore, is called an act, to signify that it is perfected at once; the other is called a work, to signify that it is progressive. Justification being an act passed in a moment, is equal in all believers; sanctification exists in different degrees of advancement in different individuals.”[8] If not equal, then Christ is no longer the sole ground of our justification; the inequality can only be found in the individual. Ridgley explains why this is important,

Were it not so, a person might be said to be justified, and not have a right to eternal life, which implies a contradiction; for though he might be acquitted, as to the guilt charged upon him by one indictment, he would be condemned by that which is contained in another. We may hence infer, that all justified persons have an equal right to conclude themselves discharged from guilt, and the condemning sentence of the law of God; though all cannot see their right to claim this privilege by reason of the weakness of their faith.[9]

Once justified, always justified; once justified, completely justified; once justified, equally justified; once justified, never condemned. The practical point behind this must not be overlooked. Every believer has equally changed his status in relation to God. God does not half justify some believers and completely justify others. John Calvin is no more justified than you. Christ is our righteousness; none of us have more of it than another — His righteousness is credited to all of us. The “no condemnation” equally applies to all believers by faith alone in Christ alone.

Do we not sometimes imagine that the better saint somehow will be more justified before God — that his acceptance and acquittal will be more just, more sure, more majestic, etc.? Justification is not like getting on a plane with a ticket. One person gets on with an economy class ticket while the other with the first class ticket. We all receive first class tickets because it is Christ’s righteousness imputed to us.

Lastly, unlike justification, sanctification is progressive: “the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.” We have some who are mature and some who are babes in Christ (cf. 1Jn. 2:12-14; Heb. 5:12-14). Sanctification is not equal in all of us. But none of us will be perfectly sanctified in this life (1Jn. 1:8, 10) but we must all grow up into that perfection (Phil. 3:12-14; 2 Cor. 7:1).

The next two questions explain how this imperfection can exist in believers. Yet we can draw one simple lesson from this.  True believers truly justified will not say, “If I can’t be perfect and will never come close, then what is the use of trying?” True acknowledgement of God’s grace (once experienced) compels the child of God to fear offending God. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2Cor. 7:1)

 

Conclusion

Vos well summarized why this distinction is so important for us. Our generation may charge us of being too precise (guilty of theological hair-splitting). This distinction rightly separates Protestants from Catholics and also helps true believers to place their faith in Christ alone for their justification. Without this distinction, we cannot have assurance and comfort.

This distinction is extremely important for the life, because there is always some tendency to confuse these two things. The person who thinks that justification includes all the sanctification he needs, so that he need not seek personal holiness of character and life, stands in peril because he is not truly justified. On the other hand, the person who thinks that sanctification includes all the justification he needs stands in peril because lie is trying to save himself by good works. Thus the distinction between justification and sanctification is extremely important in avoiding the two extremes of antinomianism and legalism. The true believer will avoid both of these extremes, and will realize that justification is the foundation of his salvation, while sanctification is the fruit of his salvation. We should hold and teach the whole Bible truth about both of these great doctrines, noting carefully their similarities and differences, and the relation between the two. (Vos, 177 emphasis added)


[1] Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:153.

[2] The following outline is taken from Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 174-175.

[3] See our study on LC #70, “What is justification?”

[4] John Dick, vol. 2, Lectures on Theology (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1850), 235.

[5] Roman Catholics say the exact opposite — “justification is wholly and fully accomplished by the infusion of sanctifying grace.” See Joseph Pohle and Arthur Preuss, Grace, Actual and Habitual: A Dogmatic Treatise, Dogmatic Theology (Toronto: W. E. Blake & Son, 1919), 322.

[6] John Dick, vol. 2, Lectures on Theology (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1850), 203.

[7] Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:153.

[8] John Dick, Lectures on Theology, 2:235 (emphasis added).

[9] Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:153-154.

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