And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
-1 Corinthians 6:11 CSB
Everyone, at some point in our Christian life, has probably felt that God is somehow or another angry with us, or maybe we have felt that the loving Father will no longer receive our worship and perhaps will condemn us because of our sin. But that’s how a legalist thinks.
It wasn’t until I read The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney that I realized that I have lived as a legalist throughout most of my Christian life.
Legalism – writes Mahaney – is the search for forgiveness and acceptance of God through our obedience. In other words, a legalist understands that God’s favor toward him is the result of living in obedience.
Of course, I don’t deny the other truth that God blesses our obedience. However, this is far from reality and shows the little understanding we have of the good news of salvation. In order to understand this truth better, it is necessary to explain what sanctification is and what justification is.
The theological definition of sanctification:
Sanctification is a continuous process that begins when we become saved and ends when we are glorified. In other words, it is the process of continuous growth toward Christlikeness that lasts from the moment we are saved to the moment we go to heaven.
It’s important not to be confused the term used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11 “you have already been sanctified.” It seems that Paul is supporting the fact that we are already perfect.
However, the text does NOT say that we are already perfect and that sin no longer dwells in us. What the text DOES say is that we are already declared saints by the merits of Christ. However, this does not nullify the fact that sanctification is or should be part of the Christian’s daily life.
The theological definition of justification:
Justification is having been declared righteous by God. This means that before God we are no longer guilty of the sins we have committed.
My best illustration is that of a criminal who comes before a judge and confesses himself to be guilty of his very heinous crimes. But, in an unexpected turn of events, the judge declares him innocent.
This happened with us at the moment we confessed our guilt. and the righteousness of Christ was imputed to us once and for all. We have already been declared righteous!
As Jerry Bridges said in one of his lectures: Never, even in heaven, will you be as justified as now.
So then, what’s this about? That may be the question after reading the above definitions. What’s the point? Or maybe you would complain to me: Thank you for the definitions, but I still feel that God will not accept my worship on Sunday morning.
What we must understand is that, although we do have human responsibility in our sanctification, it cannot buy the favor of God.
This is the point, if we have already been declared righteous before God, we do not have to live in torment carrying a condemnation that will not fall upon us (see Romans 8: 1). Of course, I am not saying that we live as depraved libertines because we have already been justified. That will only call into question our salvation.
What I do mean is that we should learn to live joyfully, because of the salvation that has been given to us by grace, understanding that God doesn’t accept our praises because of our own merits anyway, but only because of the merits of Christ.
Written by Daniel Hurtado Toribio
Translated by Antonio Salgado Jr.