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The problem is that many Christians do not have a biblical understanding of the proper relationship of their justification to their sanctification. So justified Christians often fail to see the vital importance of continuing to repent of their sins and believe in the good news of God’s justifying love.
How does justification apply to my life now?
Why obey God and repent if I’m justified?
Professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine almost 90 years of experience to help you practically apply theology to your life and ministry. In this upcoming course and book you’ll be equipped to answer:
- Why do I need justification? (Chapter 1)
- What does justification mean? (Chapter 2)
- Why does God declare me righteous? (Chapter 3)
- What is my role in justification? (Chapter 4)
- What are the benefits of justification? (Chapter 5)
- How does justification apply to the Christian life? (Chapter 6 excerpt below)
How Does Justification Apply To The Christian Life? – Steve Childers and John Frame
(Excerpt from Applied Theology, Good News of Justification, Chapter 6)
When you have true faith in Jesus Christ, God promises to save you and declare you forgiven and righteous in Christ. This spiritual blessing of justification occurs in God’s heavenly court at the very moment you truly believe. Since God is unchanging, he cannot and will not reverse this declaration of his forgiveness and acceptance of you in his Son. You will never be more justified than you are when you have saving faith. The good news is that because you are justified now, God promises you will be vindicated on the coming judgment day.
Because justification is a one-time declaration of our forgiveness and acceptance by God through Jesus blood and righteousness, Christians often fail to understand why they need to obey God and confess their sins. If God has forgiven us through the blood of Christ and accepted us in the perfect righteousness of Christ, why do we need to keep obeying God’s law and confess our sins?
Error of Works-Righteousness
Two very serious, historic errors have emerged in answer to this question. The first error, called works-righteousness, is the belief that justified Christians can lose God’s forgiveness and acceptance in Christ because of their disobedience and failure to keep confessing their sins. This is the belief that true followers of Christ can fade in and out of God’s justifying love for them based on their failure to obey God.
When the Christians at Galatia began to hear and believe this false teaching, Paul wrote to them:
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal 3:1-3).”
Error of Antinomianism
The other serious error is called antinomianism. It’s the other extreme. This word comes from two Greek words, anti, meaning “against”; and nomos, meaning “law.” This is the belief that because of God’s justifying grace, followers of Christ do not really need to obey God’s law and keep confessing their sins. This teaching is sometimes known as “once saved, always saved,” giving false assurance of forgiveness to people no matter how much they sin.
After the Apostle Paul describes in Romans chapters 1-5 God’s amazing, justifying grace through the gift of Christ’s righteousness given only through faith, he assumes his readers might misunderstand him. So he writes in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:1-2).”
This spiritual blessing of justification occurs in God’s heavenly court at the very moment you truly believe.
The Apostle John makes clear that antinomians who merely profess to know Christ but continue to live a life of disobedience to him are liars: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:5-6).”
Against the error of works-righteousness, the bible teaches justified Christians do not phase in and out of God’s justifying love based on their continual obedience and confession. And, against the error of antinomianism, the bible teaches justified Christians will continue to obey God and confess their sins.
Why Obey God And Repent If I’m Justified?
So, why do Christians continue to obey God after they are justified?
One of the primary reasons is out of gratitude and love for God for his justifying grace. We obey God because he has forgiven us. We do not obey God so that he will forgive us. Tim Keller writes, “Religion says, ‘I obey therefore I am accepted by God.’ The Gospel says, ‘I am accepted by God through Christ, therefore I obey.’”
This raises the question, what about truly justified Christians who do not obey God and repent of their sins? In the Westminster Confession we read:
God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.
Justified Christians often fail to see the vital importance of continuing to repent of their sins and believe in the good news of God’s justifying love. Jack Miller writes,
Here is our mistake. We rightly assume that the gospel message promises us justification and that this justification is once-and-for-all and a past fact. But from this correct premise we draw the mistaken conclusion that a past justification is virtually disconnected from our present life. In reality justification is a past fact with a stunning present relevance. – Jack Miller
Francis Schaeffer referred to this problem that led him to a point of great spiritual crisis. He called it the “problem of reality.” After being a church leader for many years, he said the problem came to him in two parts. First, he observed that among many of those who had fought hard to uphold orthodox theology in his generation, he saw lots of correct doctrine, but very little true spiritual reality.
Second, as he dared to take a look at his own heart, he had to admit that although he had all the doctrines and ministry activities down quite well, he, too, seemed to be experiencing little or no true spiritual transformation. Schaeffer gives us a glimpse into the biblical solution by writing about the results of his search for greater spiritual reality:
I searched through what the Bible said concerning reality as a Christian. Gradually I saw that the problem was that with all the teaching I had received after I was a Christian, I had heard very little about what the Bible says about the meaning of the finished work of Christ for our present lives.
Schaeffer learned that the biblical essence of true spirituality is linked to the ongoing appropriation of the justifying work of Christ to the Christian. He discovered “the present value of the blood of Christ” and the result was a spiritual awakening.
Because of any of these ignorances, the Christian may not “possess his possessions” in this present life. But when a man does learn the meaning of the work of Christ in the present life, a new door is open to him. And this new door then seems to be so wonderful that often it gives the Christian, as he begins to act upon the knowledge of faith, the sense of something that is as new as was his conversion.
The Relationship Between Justification and Sanctification
The problem is that many Christians do not have a biblical understanding of the proper relationship of their justification to their sanctification. Justification is an instantaneous, completed work of God. But sanctification comes after justification and it is an ongoing process of growth by which we become more like Christ by “being saved” from sin’s ongoing power over our lives (Rom 6, 1 Cor 1:18, Phil 2:12-13,1 Thes 5:23).
D. A. Carson writes about how the biblical authors present the gospel not only to unbelievers for their conversion but also to believers for their transformation, “The gospel is regularly presented not only as truth to be received and believed, but the very power of God to transform (see 1 Cor 2; 1 Thess 2: 4; Rom 1: 16-17).”
Living the Christian life is not so much a matter of doing things for God to be accepted by him, but appreciating the good news of what God has already done for you in Jesus Christ.
Living the Christian life is not so much a matter of doing things for God to be accepted by him, but appreciating the good news of what God has already done for you in Jesus Christ. The only pathway that leads to an authentic experience of true spirituality, growth in grace and freedom is the pathway of faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Never forget Tim Keller’s helpful summary of the gospel, “Religion says, ‘I obey therefore I am accepted by God.’ The Gospel says, ‘I am accepted by God through Christ, therefore I obey.’”
Richard Lovelace describes the way followers of Christ often fail to understand and appropriate the transforming power of God’s past justification to their present lives.
Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface of their lives they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure.
Lovelace presents the biblical understanding of justification as the fuel and power for sanctification. But most Christians don’t experience this because they reverse the order and are wrongly relying on their sanctification for their justification, always feeling like they are fading in and out of God’s love and acceptance based on their good works.
The Gate of Paradise
It was Martin Luther’s discovery of the riches of God’s justifying love in Christ, not only in his conversion but also throughout his life and ministry, that lit a fire through him that eventually gave birth to a spreading flame called the Reformation. When Luther finally came to understand that the righteousness God requires is not his righteousness but the gift of Christ’s righteousness, freely given to all who believe, he said,
“For me this was the gate of paradise.”
 Westminster Confession of Faith, Of Justification XI, V.
 Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, page i.
 Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 84.
 Don Carson, What Is the Gospel? —Revisited, in For the Fame of God’s Name, 165.
 Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal (Downers Grove: IVP, 1979), 101.
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