Sin. It is the odious cause of our sin and misery. Since the fall, creation groans as it waits for redemption. But we learn early on as children that our sins are forgiven. Jesus died for our sins, so we are not guilty any more. Too often we want to stop right there, wrap it up in a neat package and call it the gospel. However, if we want to maintain a biblical view of God’s redemption of man we have to understand both justification and sanctification.
Justification. In the life of every single believer there is a moment in time where something happens to them. They do not participate in this event, but receive it passively. There is a singular moment in time where God declares them to be righteous in his sight. Every single sin is forgiven and their filthy garments are replaced with robes of the purest white. The passivity of the Christian in this part of the work of redemption is of first importance. Never can we come to the point where we think anything belonging to us contributes to this declaration. Not our tradition, family background, church attendance, or parenting philosophy. Nothing. We simply stand in God’s courtroom and hear him declare, “Not guilty!” He makes this declaration because he is just. His justice has been satisfied in Christ who paid the penalty that belonged to us. We are free from the guilt of sin, but not free to continue to live in sin.
Sanctification. As with justification, the lives of all believers are also marked with subsequent transformation, called sanctification. This change is gradual, many times painful and incomplete in this life, but it is certain. In contrast to our justification, sanctification is not a legal pronouncement. Sanctification is a process of learning to shake off the slavery to sin from which we have been rescued. Scripture repeatedly tells us to put off our old ways and live in righteousness (Cf. Col. 3; Rom. 6:1-2; Eph. 5:1-5). In addition, we are told that this change within us is so essential to the gospel that we can expect no true expression of faith without accompanying works (Cf. Jam. 1:22-25). This work requires effort on our part, by the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in us. He enables, but we must strive to do this work.
So does it matter if we sin? From a salvation perspective, the works of Christians do not contribute to our eternal condition. Therefore our sins do not effect our standing before God. They are forgiven and cannot be unforgiven. Yet, our sins are grievous in God’s sight. Each time we sin, we demean the sacrifice of Christ. Sin is a clinging to our pre-redemption condition and a denial of what we are called to do as God’s people. We are to be working out our salvation in fear and trembling, because of love for God, thankfulness for salvation and eternal joy flowing from our understanding of the free gift of justification. So the gospel requires a careful consideration both of justification and sanctification. If we fail our gospel understanding will be truncated.
Geoff Gleason is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Cliffwood PCA in Augusta, Ga. This article appeared on his blog