The Dilemma of Justification-Alone Salvation

By Colin and Russell Standish

The heart of Lutherís enlightenment was the recognition that the gospel teaches that mankind is justified by faith and not by works. This revelation entirely revolutionized Christianity from a false view of salvation, which was built upon the basis of penance and indulgences as a means of obtaining the forgiveness of God and of entering into eternal salvation. This revelation could not have come at a more appropriate time, for in his desperate desire to complete the building of St. Peterís Basilica in Rome, the pope had commissioned Tetzel to sell indulgences in Europe. Not only were these indulgences to cover the sins of the past, but in many cases people were deluded into believing that they would cover the sins committed in the future. With such diabolical and manifest corruption, the hearts of many faithful Christians were crying out for deliverance, and the discovery by Martin Luther of the fundamental truth of salvation was to bring a revival unparalleled in the history of Christianity as men and women broke the shackles of fear and bondage to accept liberty in Christ Jesus.

It took a scholar like Martin Luther, with access to the Scriptures, to understand this principle, not because common people could not understand it, but because the Word of God was virtually unavailable to the common people who had no way of ascertaining truth except through the mouth of the priest. As many of the priests themselves were exceedingly corrupt, and many more ignorant of the Scriptures, there was no way in which the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the free gift of His grace could be understood by men and women. And so in dread and by intimidation many were forced into the payment of large sums of money in the hope of procuring eternal life for themselves or for their deceased loved ones. The fear of hell fire was a constant burden upon their hearts, and many a ruthless priest used this fear mercilessly to force men and women to pay large sums of money to the church to guarantee their salvation. But as if it were not enough, the same fear tactic was used to encourage men and women to extricate their deceased loved ones out of purgatory so that they might have the joy of being transported to heavenly places. Martin Luther, through his study of the Scriptures, liberated millions from such bondage.

Sanctification and the Reformation

The issue of justification by faith became the central theme of the Reformation. It was understandable that many people failed to perceive the proper context of sanctification. Sanctification was seen through the Roman Catholic doctrine of sacramentalism. The keeping of the seven sacred sacraments was pontificated by the Roman Catholic Church to be essential for salvation. These seven sacraments consist of holy vows, marriage, penance, extreme unction, baptism, confirmation and the eucharist.

Unfortunately, in relating sanctification to sacramentalism the Roman Catholic Church had developed an almost universal view that sanctification was based upon manís work. Certainly sanctification was considered to be an important part of the Christian life and development, and to Luther and other Reformers it went beyond the seven sacraments to include aspects of righteous living. Nevertheless, there is evidence that they were not able to recognize sanctification along with justification as wholly the ministry of Christ for us. Thus it was held that though sanctification is a good principle, it is not part of the gospel of salvation.

This failure to link sanctification with justification became a central pillar of evangelical Protestantism, and for most Evangelicals today it is still their understanding of the gospel. To be justified is to be forgiven past sins. To be sanctified is to be set aside to a righteous life in future.

Sanctification and Evangelicals

But Evangelicals face a monumental task to prove that sanctification is not part of our qualification for salvation. Indeed, this concept is impossible to sustain validly from the New Testament. Sanctification is clearly defined in Holy Scripture and cannot be removed from its central place in salvation. Here we are getting to the very heart of Evangelicalism as it faces the difficulty of being unable to sustain what may be the most precious pillar of its foundation.

Geoffrey Paxton, the Australian evangelical theologian, expresses what many Evangelicals believe:

But the righteousness of faith is not, in whole or in part, the renewal which is present with faith. Neither is it that renewal which follows faith. The righteousness of faith is never to be confused with sanctification. It is not sanctification, nor does it include sanctification. (Geoffrey Paxton, The Shaking of Adventism, p. 45, Zenith Pub. Co., Wilmington, DE, 1977).

With earnestness we want to invite our Evangelical friends to reconsider their belief in a justification-alone salvation. A single Pauline quotation destroys the concept of justification-alone salvation.

But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13, emphasis added).

Genuine salvation is bestowed only when the Holy Spirit directs the life. Another powerful Pauline declaration adds weight to this matter.

But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Remembering that the words righteous and justify come from the same Greek root word, it is demonstrable that Christ came to this earth to provide not only for our justification but also for our sanctification.

In our youth, as we struggled with the niceties of geometry, we recall that at the end of a theorem or at the end of a geometric problem which we had solved to our satisfaction, and, we hoped, to that of our teacher, we would end with the letters Q.E.D. These letters stood for quod erat demonstrandum which simply means, which was to be demonstrated. If there were no other texts in Holy Writ than these two texts, they would prove beyond any doubt that sanctification is an intimate and integral part of the gospel.

A False Conception of Sanctification

Now the issue of human works arises. What is their relationship to sanctification? The Roman Catholic view of sanctification, predicated upon manís works, is not sustainable from Scripture. There is not a shred of evidence in the Bible to show that we are sanctified by works. On the contrary, Scripture is emphatic that works play no part whatever as a basis for salvation.

That in ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:7Ė8).

Colin recalls listening to an acquaintance deliver the divine service. The preacher made the pronouncement that "To place justification and sanctification together in the gospel is to commit spiritual adultery." Colin was no less alarmed by the lack of concern expressed by the congregation than by the words of the pastor.

At the conclusion of the service, Colin spoke with the pastor, explaining to him that what he had stated would have been correct if the faulted view of sanctification held by the preacher had been correct. He asked Colin what he believed sanctification to be. Colin responded by saying, "Let us first look at justification. From your sermon today I perceive you believe that justification is Godís perfect work for man through the death and ministry of His Son Jesus Christ." Obviously agreeing with that, the pastor asked Colin for his definition. Colin responded that he too believed in that same wonderful concept of justification, but added, "It is concerning sanctification that we disagree." Though the pastor did not say it in overt terms, it was plain that he believed that sanctification is manís imperfect works for God. The pastor did not disagree when Colin proposed that definition to him. But then he asked for Colinís definition of sanctification. Colin replied, "I believe that sanctification, like justification, is Godís perfect work for man through the death and ministry of His Son Jesus Christ." Many Evangelicals, like that pastor, identify sanctification with the imperfect works of man. But there is general agreement in evangelical Protestantism in accepting the concept that justification is by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Therefore being Justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, emphasis added).

But what most Evangelicals have frequently ignored is the precious truth that just as surely, we are sanctified by that same faith in Jesus Christ. Paul, when making his powerful defense before King Agrippa, quoted the words of Jesus spoken to him on the road to Damascus:

To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me (Acts 26:18, emphasis added).

The same faith that is essential for our justification is necessary for our sanctification. There cannot be spiritual adultery in putting together two great aspects of salvation, both of which are predicated upon the faith of Jesus. But let us go a step further. Taking into account another Pauline statement concerning justification,

Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him (Romans 5:9, emphasis added).

All Evangelicals agree that we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice alone brings justification to the members of the human race. But just as surely as we are justified by the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are sanctified by that same death.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25Ė27, emphasis added).

Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate (Hebrews 13:12, emphasis added).

By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10, emphasis added).

The same spilt blood of Jesus that is provided for our pardon and our forgiveness is also essential for our cleansing and purifying. We must understand that it is by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ alone that we can both be justified and sanctified. This truth, so plainly taught in Scripture, sweeps aside the false view that sanctification is the product of manís works. Most Protestants have seen works as the basis of sanctification rather than the result of sanctification. Without question those who are sanctified by faith will live a life of holiness manifested in obedience to the will of God. Day by day their lives will be surrendered to the dominance of His life.

Justification and Sanctification Linked in Scripture

The indivisible link between justification and sanctification is witnessed throughout the whole of the New Testament. Text after text links the two together. Below is listed a sample of such texts.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [justification], and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [sanctification] (1 John 1:9).

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus [justification], who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [sanctification] (Romans 8:1).

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh [justification]: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [sanctification] (Romans 8:3Ė4).

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water [justification] and of the Spirit [sanctification], he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).

Even in the Lordís prayer justification and sanctification are "married" together:

And forgive us our debts [justification], as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil [sanctification]: for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen (Matthew 6:12Ė13).

But the most convincing evidence of the vital role of both justification and sanctification to human salvation is provided in the very last chapter of the last book of the Bible when the final declaration is made concerning the destiny of the inhabitants of the world.

He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous [justified], let him be righteous [justified] still: and he that is holy [sanctified], let him be holy [sanctified] still (Revelation 22:11).

One of the great difficulties in the English language has been the problem of the use of the words, justified and righteous on the one hand, and sanctified and holy on the other. In the Greek each pair of words is from the same root word. In the English language these pairs appear quite different in their roots and therefore in their spelling. The reason is that English is a hybrid language, incorporating Old Briton, Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon, Jute and French. In most of the romance languages, however, the words justify and righteous are very similar to each other and the words sanctification and holiness are closely linked to each other. But it is the Greek in which the New Testament was written that settles the issue. The Greek word most commonly translated justify is dikaioo. The common word translated righteous is dikaios. The word hagiazo is commonly translated sanctify while hagios is translated holy. It is fascinating to note that Revelation 22:11 reads "He that is righteous [dikaios], let him be righteous [dikaioo] still: and he that is holy [hagios], let him be holy [hagiozo] still." If this translation were made according to the most common usage, the text would actually read, "He that is righteous, let him be justified still, and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still." How critical this fact in our understanding of the final declaration of God for His people! Only those who are justified and sanctified will be sealed or secured for eternal life.

This fact is a very great dilemma for Evangelicals. If we were told that all we need for heaven is justification, then it would appear that John was promoting error in this verse. But not the voice of John, but the voice of God is in this declaration. We understand that in taking up the heart of Evangelical concepts of the gospel right from the beginning, we are creating a challenge which no sincere Evangelical can avoid. The Scripture states,

But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day (Proverbs 4:18).

It took more than two hundred years for the clear concept of the relationship of justification and sanctification to emerge. The true relationship of sanctification to salvation was strongly proclaimed through the preaching of John Wesley, the British Reformer.

Therefore, in summary, let us reiterate the fact that Scripture declares that both justification and sanctification are bestowed through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. They are inseparable Siamese twins that cannot be rightly torn apart in the understanding of the gospel of salvation. We can draw only one conclusion from the evidence of Scripture, that those who will be saved in the kingdom of God are both justified (pardoned) and sanctified (cleansed of sin).

To be continued

To learn more about the danger of the false doctrines seen in the Evangelical movement today and the extent of their spread order your own copy of the entire book The Evangelical Dilemma, by Colin and Russell Standish, from which this article was taken. This book is available through Hartland Publications: PO Box 1, Rapidan, VA, 22733. Phone: 1-800-774-3566. Or order online at

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