I have made this point in the comments on various posts but do not believe I have done so in a post itself. The point is obviously related to the priority of justification to sanctification specifically with regard to the righteousness we possess by faith in Christ.
The doctrine of justification teaches that God accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us and received by faith alone. That would seem to close the case. I no longer fear condemnation â€“ either in this life or the life to come â€“ because by faith in Christ I am now entirely acceptable in Godâ€™s sight. With justification comes peace of conscience.
But along comes my unionist friend (I think we’re still friends) and he says that yes, youâ€™re righteous but you still donâ€™t have an infused righteousness. In other words, if I understand correctly, I need to be both justified and sanctified if I am going to avoid condemnation on judgment day.
What I donâ€™t understand is not that sanctification is one of the benefits of the redemption purchased by Christ, or that sanctification is part of salvation, or that those who are justified will also produce fruit and evidence of their saving faith in the form of good works. What I donâ€™t understand is how this construction â€“ you need to be both justified and sanctified â€“ is supposed to be undermine the priority of justification. Hereâ€™s why.
In justification I receive all of Christâ€™s righteousness. In sanctification, I receive only part of his righteousness because in this life, as the Confession of Faith says, sanctification is imperfect and there still abides in me â€œsome remnants of corruption in every part.â€ (16.2). In other words, sanctification ultimately needs the lift of justification if we are going to cross the threshold of Godâ€™s righteous judgment. The righteousness of sanctification being incomplete and imperfect will stand or fall on judgement day depending on whether the righteousness of justification is present â€“ that is, his perfect righteousness is my perfect righteousness.
How this does not make justification prior to sanctification, I cannot fathom. And this intuition is confirmed by chapters on sanctification like Article 24 from the Belgic Confession (â€œOn the Sanctification of Sinnersâ€):
although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.
So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.
In other words, the pastoral nature of justification and its priority is at the heart of the Reformation. The complete and perfect righteousness of Christ, received by faith alone, is the only reality that will free â€œthe conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God’s approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leavesâ€ (Belgic Confession, Art. 23). We donâ€™t look to sanctification in the same way that we do to justification. If we did we would live a life of fear because we know that our personal righteousness is imperfect and incomplete in this life.
Am I clueless?