Our being saved from the wrath to come has in its benefits the fact that God’s gracious gift is not a one-time event. Our Lord is not a divine Publisher’s Clearinghouse who knocks on the door of our heart, gives us the prize, and disappears. Rather He takes us into His house with the key of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection opening the gate and allows us in His mercy to eat and feast at His table forever. Part of that feeding comes with the assuring work that as we take in the food of faith we grow stronger and stronger in it. That’s difference between the imputation of justification and the infusing of sanctification.
Our Westminster Divines had a problem. It wasn’t a new problem, and it is a problem that is still with us today. Many people, including whole branches of Christendom, confuse justification and sanctification. Either they get the cart before the horse or they introduce elements of both into each other, like peanut butter and chocolate in a Reece’s. It may be delicious in that context, but it is damnable heresy in our context. There is not only a functional difference between justification and sanctification, but getting each of them right is the warp and woof of the gospel of grace offered in Jesus Christ. So today for our catechism lesson we are going to listen as the writers of the WLC help us to understand not only why this matters, but how we can use this distinction to grow in faith both in this life and in the life to come. Here are the Q/A’s:
Q. 77: Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?
A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputes the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuses grace, and enables to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doeth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.
Q. 78. Whence arises the imperfection of sanctification in believers?
A. The imperfection of sanctification in believers arises from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, and the perpetual lustings of the flesh against the spirit; whereby they are often foiled with temptations, and fall into many sins, are hindered in all their spiritual services, and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.
Q. 79: May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the state of grace?
A. True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God, and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance, their inseparable union with Christ, his continual intercession for them, and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
The opening words of the first question make it clear that justification and sanctification are inseparably joined. What they mean by that is that you can’t have the one without the other.