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International Church of Christ

Confusing the Doctrines of Justification and Sanctification

The Bible teaches that one is justified once they trust in Christ (through faith (Rom. 3:24-25; 4:5;5:1,l8).

Justification speaks of a legal declaration that gives one a right standing before God. It is a one time event. It involves an imputed righteousness of Christ in which we, although we are sinners, are pronounced "not guilty" of sin as in a court of law. We are cleared of any charges against us. Christ's sacrifice means he was punished in our place, satisfying the demands of the law, and God's justice upon sin.

Sanctification begins with justification - it means to separate one unto Christ's service.We are both sanctified and justified when we exercise faith in the gospel for salvation. Sanctification is a continual work of the Holy Spirit in the believer to conform us to the image of God's Son. It is the holy Spirits work to bring practical holiness and the fruit of the Spirit in ones live. This is continual process until one is taken to be with the Lord.

Glorification is the ending of the sanctification process and occurs when we get to Heaven, either by means of death, rapture, or resurrection. We are then in an eternal state and have been made righteous in our nature.

Most cults ignore the work of justification, focus on a person's sanctification, saying that it is our performance that will justify someone and clear their guilt before God. This view avoids the completed work of Christ and takes the emphasis off of grace and puts it on one's performance. They will either combine sanctification with justification or say that we have neither, that they are both a future tense like glorification.

However, the Bible states in Rom. 8:30 that we are already seated in heavenly places. It's a done deal. "those He justified, He also glorified." God always completes His work He started, he is the author and finisher of our faith.

In the International Church of Christ study book entitled "Justified" by Gordon Ferguson, chapter 4, pg. 16, he makes the mistake of confusing the justification with the sanctification process, not unlike the other cult group's mistakes and aberrant teachings.

In the first 2 parts, he summarizes the tension between works and faith in the book of James in which there is no small controversy. In part 3 A. B. C. he states the term justification occurs with confusion because of the different uses of the term which some have wrongly assumed in Gen. 15:6, that it is describing Abraham's original salvation. In part A., Ferguson admits that Scripture most often uses justification in reference to original salvation. However, this is not an absolute rule. He cites 1 Cor. 6:11, in which sanctified is used to refer to original salvation and in both Rom. 4 and James 2, justified refers to continuing salvation. In part B., Ferguson states, "We don’t know when Abraham was originally saved. When we are introduced to Abraham, he is already an obedient follower of God (Heb. 11:8)." In part C., he says: "Therefore, justification by faith is the initial and continual process (from beginning to end.) (Rom. 1:17) through which we show our faith in God by believing the facts of the Bible, trusting its promises and obeying its commands."

In using 1 Cor. 6:11, we find the origin and source of our sanctification. This is where it first begins, with our justification of one being cleared of guilt. You will never find justification as a process. It is always depicted as a one-time event. Rom. 5:1 says, "Therefore having been justified by faith". We read here that it is a past event.It is sanctification the ongoing process of the image of Christ being formed in the believer that is a on going event until one is taken home either by the rapture or death.

Paul writes in Romans 4 and relates it to Gen. 15, that Abraham was justified 19 years before the event of his obedience to sacrifice his son. Nowhere are works applied to Abraham's grounds of justification before God.

Paul and James are discussing two different concerns.  Looking more carefully this so-called tension is resolved. Paul discusses theologically how a sinner is considered righteous before God.  James is concerned with what kind of faith results in salvation, since he is addressing a particular problem that has arisen in the Jerusalem church.  If one has no works springing out of their confession of belief is this true faith?  Can it be saving faith? Works wrought in Christ flow from a living source.   We are not doing good works to be created in Christ, which is what this would be if justification is an ongoing process related to one's deeds.  We are doing good works because we are already "in Christ".  We are new creations, so what follows is the fruit of the Spirit occurring sometime in a Christian's life. Naturally speaking, some trees take longer to produce fruit than other trees, but a good tree will always yield some good fruit.  A farmer summarizes a good tree by its yield throughout its lifetime, not by one or two years. (Matt. 13 - 100 fold, 60, 30).  One's works declare and manifest outwardly the reality of faith which is not visible to man. The fruit that a tree bears shows it is alive, healthy and productive. The fruit of a tree is not what makes a tree alive. Spiritually, faith is alive first, then proceeds the good works, showing what is invisible on the inside, outwardly.

We read in James 2:21, "Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works when he offered Isaac, his son, on the altar?"

In what sense was he justified since he was already pronounced right before God years prior to this? James is saying, in contrast to Paul, that God was able to see that Abraham was righteous already, but until Abraham lifted his knife over Isaac in obedience, only God knew his righteousness. One event occurred before God who alone knows our hearts, and the other is before man who can only perceive the outward actions. In other words, our faith is invisible and can only be expressed outwardly by our works. This is the point that James is trying to emphasize, we show our faith by our deeds to our fellow man.

Our works justify the believer in the demonstrative sense, not in the procurative sense, meaning good works are not the grounds for our legal justification before God. They justify us before the eyes of man, demonstrating what is alive on the inside. When James says faith without works is dead, he is warning against a "words only" intellectual ascent to faith. James is not speaking about the theological aspect of justification before God, but the practical aspect before man. God alone looks at the heart but by works man is justified before other men, who can only look at the outward appearance.


finds its ground - Christ's righteousness (Rom. 3:24-26 The means is by - faith (Rom. 5:1, 4-5 The evidence is shown by - good works (James 2:24)

True faith, living faith will express itself outwardly by good works.

Paul states in Rom. 4:2, "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say?" This is a good question. Let’s look at the answer. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.

If we go to Gen. 4:10, we find that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. This all occurred before his son Isaac was born so he had the righteousness that God gives by faith only. In Romans 4:23-25 we read, "Now it is not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him, but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification." It's not baptism or works that justify us, but by faith, our works are all acts of faith, which one must have beforehand in order to do them.

We see, biblically, that our faith is alive before our baptism. In the act of baptism, and after baptism, in our works. Works flow out of a true faith. When we say we receive salvation by faith alone it is referring to being the only conduit to the grace of God. We are saved by faith alone but it is not alone - it is accompanied by works. Like nightfall follows daylight, so should our faith be followed by works. Our works have no merit before God for salvation, however, we are created in Christ to do good works. Faith is the active principle in every aspect of one's Christian life. Romans 14:23 says, "Whatever is not of faith is sin, therefore all is by faith." The Bible never condemns faith alone but a faith that is dead, an empty profession. Its inward deadness is demonstrated by its lack of outward life. Faith that is not alive, without works, that faith is not saving faith.

It is clear through the example of Abraham's life that the works spoken of in James justify the believer in the demonstrative sense only. Christ's work justifies in the procuring sense. The Savior is a person and it is His work that one must believe in to be justified (legally declared righteous). We are not justified before God from what we do. One's own works, baptism, obedience, or prayer will not justify anyone. It is God’s grace through faith, it is a gift.

When sanctification and justification are confused, it robs from someone the sure foundation which they are to build on. Since Christ is the sure foundation and there is no other, we must build on His finished work or else our works are not wrought in Christ.

Scriptures that show faith is needed for Justification

Romans 3:26 "To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is the boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith, therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds (works) of the law."

Acts 13:39 "And by Him (Christ) everyone who believes is justified from all things by which you could not be justified by the law of Moses."

Gal. 5:4 "You who would be justified by the law (obedience and works) you have fallen away from grace." (Gal 2:16, 21, 3:10,12)

Rom. 5:1 'Therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." This is past tense which gives us the access to God presence.

Rom. 5:9 'We are justified by His blood." But we are also sanctified the same way, Heb. 13:12 "Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood." This means we were set apart not by what we do but by what he did.

The New Testament unanimously speaks of justification in the work of God and is given to those who believe not to those who work. Just as sanctification is done through the work of the Holy Spirit not by our own hands. It begins at the same time we are justified and it is applied to us by his blood  as in Heb.13:12 states Jesus "...that he might sanctify the people with his blood..." All stems from the work of God otherwise one is practicing the insufficiency of Christ, and their own works as a necessary element to their salvation.


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  Articles are taken from the spiral bound book International Church of Christ  Birth of a Cult. (click> on books)



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