If you compare Christianity to a house, justification is the foundation and sanctification is the structure. Believing the right things lays the foundation, while living the right way builds the house. In chapters 5 and 6 of Romans, the apostle Paul does a masterful job of presenting the firm foundation and the basic architecture of the Christian life. The foundation is laid through faith in Christ, and the house is built through grace-inspired obedience.
Paul writes, "Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." (Rom. 5:1) Justification is complete the moment a soul is converted. At that point, the new believer is saved, redeemed, born again, forgiven and justified. This is why Paul is able to present justification as a past event for every Christian: "We have gained access by faith into this grace." It is a done deal. Conversion is instantaneous, whereas becoming more like Christ is a process. Justification occurs instantly, while sanctification is a lifelong journey of "home projects" involving the "house" of the Christian life.
Once a baby is born, the journey begins. Likewise, once conversion takes place, the baby Christian immediately begins to follow Jesus. Receiving Christ as your Savior is as easy as walking down the aisle when you get married. Marriage itself, on the other hand, will greatly test your love for one another as you begin to face trials and challenges together. Similarly, Paul explains the role of suffering in the life of a believer: "We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." (5:3,4) It has been said that whenever people face severe hardships in life, they either get bitter or they get better.
Perseverance and Christian character enable a person to continue trusting the Lord even when your circumstances seem to be shouting, "Give up. God has forgotten you. God is mad at you. Otherwise, you wouldn't be going through this difficulty in your life." These lies do not come from the Lord, and they do not prevent a mature Christian from persevering in faith and love. In other words, spiritual maturity enables a believer to rely upon the Lord's faithfulness regardless of the challenges. And whenever the word "hope" is used in the New Testament, it refers to the assurance that a Christian can have in the promises of God. After all, "It is impossible for God to lie." (Heb. 6:18)
Marriage begins at the altar with a lifelong commitment, and following Christ begins with spiritual conversion through repentance and faith. The wedding ceremony, like spiritual conversion, involves trusting the person you are choosing to marry. Without complete trust, why would anyone get married? And when an individual trusts Christ for salvation, he or she receives the gift of God's love and grace. "God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." (Rom. 5:5) Your soul becomes the temple of God the moment you are converted.
The depth of God's amazing grace and love for us is greater than we fully realize. "God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (5:8) The Lord came after us when we were lost and had no possible means of saving ourselves. God stepped in and gave His only Son to die for our sins on the cross. (John 3:16) And what does Christ's sacrificial death provide for everyone who receives Him by faith? (John 1:12) As Paul explains, "Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him!" (Rom. 5:9)
I suspect most people don't spend too much time contemplating the wrath of God. And yet consider for a moment what the apostle John wrote about God's wrath: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36) In other words, those who reject Jesus will have to pay for their own sins throughout eternity. Paul wrote, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 6:23)
Death for a soul involves the ultimate punishment of being thrown into the prison of hell, whereas spiritual life in Christ includes being welcomed into paradise at the moment of your death and then living in heaven forever. Heaven won't be boring, and hell is far worse than just a simple slap on the wrist. Therefore, you should take these extreme eternal destinations very seriously. After all, you and everyone else will spend eternity in one of these two places, whether you currently realize it or not.
Our problem, of course, began in the Garden of Eden. "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." (5:12) But this does not give believers an excuse to engage in deliberate sin and assume there will be no consequences for such premeditated behavior. Paul wrote, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (6:1,2)
In other words, it is unthinkable for a Christian to take the attitude that says, "I am free to sin because my sins are forgiven." Such an unloving and ungrateful perspective has nothing to do with Christianity. It not only lacks the house of sanctification, but it also reveals that such a person doesn't even have the foundation laid yet through spiritual conversion. You see, those who are truly converted do not view forgiveness as a license to sin.
Paul wrote to the saints in Rome: "Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God....Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." (6:11-14) Jesus did not die for our sins so that we could willfully pursue a life of disobedience. "A man reaps what he sows." (Gal. 6:7) And the Lord didn't wash away our sins and place our soul "under grace" through faith (Eph. 2:8,9) so that we could deliberately violate His commands for holy living.
Paul asked the question, "Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (6:15,16) Paul understood that Christians are forgiven of their sins, and are no longer controlled by their sinful nature. In fact, Paul explained that "you used to be slaves to sin" but have now "been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." (6:18) That is, you are now free to live for the One who gave His life for you on the cross.
At the moment of conversion, believers become "slaves to God" and "the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life." (6:22) And so you see, the historic religious conflict between faith and good works is not found in Scripture. What we do find in the New Testament is Paul writing a lot about "the obedience that comes from faith." (Rom. 1:5) This is the bread and butter of Christianity. It involves the foundation as well as the house that God builds in the lives of His children. I addressed this issue five years ago in an article titled, "Salvation Without Good Works Is an Oxymoron." Scripture reveals the true source of Christianity, and how "Jesus Is a Believer's Justification and Sanctification." In other words, Jesus is "the author and perfecter of our faith," (Heb. 12:2) as well as "the vine" who produces good fruit in the lives of His followers. (John 15:5)
By the way, don't rely upon your feelings to determine whether or not you are justified, saved, born again, forgiven and redeemed. Instead, rely upon the promises of God found in the Gospel. "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 6:23) "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Rom. 10:13) Thankfully, those of us who believe in Jesus as our Savior "have been justified through faith" (5:1) and "have been justified by His blood." (5:9) Christian faith relies upon the cross and not upon our fickle feelings. Scripture alone reveals the way of salvation. "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." (Rom. 10:17)
The book of Romans is a powerhouse of Christian doctrine that feeds the souls of believers, and it equips us to live as faithful followers of Christ. Catholics, Protestants and every Christian can understand these two things: (1) the foundation of spiritual conversion is laid through faith in Jesus Christ, and (2) the spiritual house of sanctification is built through holy living. God is the master architect and builder, and believers in Christ are privileged to be "the work of His hand." (Isaiah 64:8) Spiritual maturity is the goal for every believer in Jesus, and "perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete." (James 1:4)
"We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." (Rom. 5:3-5) And so believers today, like the "saints" (1:7) Paul addressed nearly 2000 years ago in Rome, choose to love "because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
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