To be justified is not only to be forgiven, but also to be accounted as righteous in God’s sight….So, how do sinners receive a righteousness with which to stand before God? In answering this question, we make a distinction between infused and imputed righteousness.
There is an important discussion taking place within the church regarding the relationship of justification to sanctification. This topic is crucial to us getting the gospel right today while avoiding the deadly extremes of antinomianism (a lawless Christianity) and legalism (a works-oriented Christianity). On many occasions, I have taught on the topics of justification and sanctification. There are few doctrinal topics that exert a more important influence on our lives as Christians than these.
Perhaps the best short definition of justification is given in Question #33 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. To be justified is to have your sins forgiven and to be accepted as just in the holy presence of God. Romans 5:1 states, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
All other blessings of salvation depend on our first being justified with God. In describing justification as an “act of God’s free grace,” we are saying that it is a once-for-all act of God as a free gift. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
To be justified is not only to be forgiven, but also to be accounted as righteous in God’s sight. As Jesus said in His parable of the wedding feast, we must have a garment of righteousness to be permitted into God’s presence (Mt. 22:11, 12). So, how do sinners receive a righteousness with which to stand before God? In answering this question, we make a distinction between infused and imputed righteousness.
To give clarity to this topic, I offer the following seven assertions regarding justification and sanctification. I briefly discuss each assertion, making Scripture references which simply point to the main line of biblical support for each assertion.
- Justification and sanctification are twin benefits that flow from union with Christ through faith. Christ is Himself the center of the gospel, and through faith we are saved in union with Him (Acts 16:31; Eph. 1:3). Justification and sanctification are distinct benefits flowing through union with Christ by faith alone. Justification is a legal benefit of our union with Christ, granting us forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through faith alone (Rom. 3:23-26; Gal. 2:16). Sanctification is a Spiritual benefit of our union with Christ, involving the believer’s transformation into the holy likeness of Christ (Rom. 6:1-14; Eph. 4:20-24; Tit. 2:12).