Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Justification and Sanctification

Part 24 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 8:1-4

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (v. 2). 

Justification and Sanctification

Two important biblical words are “justification” and “sanctification.” What do they mean?

Justification is the declaring of a person to be righteous (i.e., not guilty). (It’s like when we say, “His actions were justified.” In other words, the person is not guilty of wrongdoing.)

Sanctification is moral transformation (i.e., Christlikeness, holiness). Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit (“the Spirit of life,” v. 2). This is why he is called the Holy Spirit. (It's not that he's more holy than the Father and the Son.)

What's the Connection?

Many commentators believe that 8:1 is about justification (“no condemnation”) and 8:2 is about sanctification. [1] What’s the connection between verses 1 and 2?

Notice that verse 2 begins with “For,” which means “because.” John Piper points out that “because” can be used two ways. It can be used to provide evidence of something or state the cause of something. [2]

If I say, "I am tired because I’m yawning,” I'm saying that my yawning is evidence of being tired. But if I say, “I am tired because I didn’t get much sleep,” I'm saying that my not getting much sleep is the cause of being tired.

Is sanctification the cause of justification, or is sanctification the evidence of justification?

Sanctification isn’t the cause of justification. If it was, we could never achieve (or keep) the status of “no condemnation.” Sanctification is the evidence of justification.

God Has Done What the Law Couldn't Do

If it’s impossible for us to get rid of our guilt, how is it possible? “God has done what the law [i.e., the Mosaic law], weakened by the flesh [i.e., our sinfulness], could not do” (v. 3a). The purpose of the law was not to justify us: “By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). [3]

God has done what the law couldn’t do: make a way for us to be justified. How?

  • The Father sent the Son (“By sending his own Son,” v. 3b). 
  • The Son became human (“in the likeness of sinful flesh,” v. 3c). “His humanity was both real and sinless simultaneously.” [4]
  • The Son became an offering for our sin (“for sin,” v. 3d). 
  • The penalty for our sin was paid by the Son on the cross (“he condemned sin in the flesh,” v. 3e). “In the flesh” refers to the body of Jesus. “Believers are no longer ‘condemned’ (v. 1) because in Christ sin has been ‘condemned.’” [5]
  • Now our justification and sanctification are possible (“in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” v. 4a). [6]

Believers are described as people “who walk [i.e., live] not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (v. 4b). This is sanctification—the evidence of our justification and the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.

To live “according to the flesh” is to live a me-centered life. To live “according to the Spirit” is to live differently—to be like Christ.

There Is "No Condemnation," But There Is Obligation

“No condemnation” means no condemnation. There’s no fine print; there are no exceptions. There is absolute security for the believer.

But Jesus died on the cross not only for both our justification; he also died for our sanctification. “Holiness is the ultimate purpose of the incarnation and the atonement.” [7]

Being satisfied with only justification (and not bothering with sanctification) is like being given a free Hawaiian vacation but never leaving your hotel room.


[1] The two occurrences of “law” in verse 2 mean “power” or “principle” (cf. Rom. 3:27).
[2] John Piper, “Set Free by the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” (sermon)
[3] The law isn’t bad. Telling someone that apples won’t cure tiredness doesn’t mean that apples are bad.
[4] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 219.
[5] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 477.
[6] The fulfillment of the “righteous requirement of the law” can be seen as referring to our justification or our sanctification. Perhaps it refers to both.
[7] Stott, p. 221.

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