Justification, sanctification and taking possession of what is already yours

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 I’ve been reflecting on the whole ‘justification vs sanctification debate’ lately and how we (myself very much included) can become tied up in knots about whether one cancels out the other, or how both interact.

On the one hand, it can be tempting to think that once we put our trust in Jesus Christ then we’re saved, that’s it, we can now live our lives as we please until eternity. On the other hand, I think we can beat ourselves up by thinking faith alone doesn’t make us righteous in front of God and that we have to demonstrate evidence of works in order to be saved. In other words, salvation isn’t by faith at all, but is salvation by works, or salvation by faith and works, or salvation by faith but made extra certain by works.

Many reformed commentators argue that Christians tend to fall into the first of these categories. That is, we take our salvation by granted and can take the ‘easy’ option of coasting along. Whilst I’m sure this is true for many, I think many of us can believe the second or third category. I know I can! We can doubt the fact that we’re saved by faith and think that we have to make our own distinct effort (i.e. works) in order to make our salvation absolutely sure.

Luckily, God in his grace hasn’t left us to flounder in anxiety and worry about this.  Jesus (God in human form) has given us the apostles to teach us on this issue. What is more, this teaching of the apostles is backed up with the authority of Jesus himself. We’d therefore be wise to listen to their words given to us in the New Testament.

As such, at the 10:30 am service at St Helen’s Church, we’ve recently been looking through the second letter of one of Jesus’ apostles, Peter. In a sermon three weeks ago, William helpfully brought out the fact that we’ve been saved by faith (as a gift from God by his grace), and that we are totally secure in this (2 Peter 1:1-4). William also brought our attention to what Peter says in the following verses, where he urges the believer to make every effort to take possession of what is already theirs. That is, the things Peter lists in verses 5-7 that pertain to Christlikeness already belong to the believer. It isn’t that we have to take part in some sort of theological treasure hunt to discover them, which in turn leads to the ultimate treasure of salvation. No, by his amazing grace, God has already given us all these things.

I don’t think I’d appreciated this in quite this way before. I knew (despite my sinful self/the devil sometimes trying to deceive me otherwise) that I’m saved by God’s grace through faith alone. I also knew that one of the main thrusts of the New Testament is to exhort the believer towards Christlikeness (i.e. sanctification.) Yet I suppose I never knew quite how to mete these two things together.

Yet the apostle Peter offers an inspired answer:

Knowing that we’re saved (through faith by God’s grace), let us make every effort to obtain what is already ours.

Here’s the text in question. Feel free to leave a comment below!

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Confirm Your Calling and Election

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.