This article first appeared in the bulletin of the Limerick Reformed Fellowship (Ireland), and was written by missionary-pastor Martyn McGeown.
Belgic Confession, Article 24: Whom God Justifies He Also Sanctifies
I Corinthians 1:30: “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption Ghost.”
The subject of Belgic Confession Article 24 is “Of man’s sanctification and good works.” Sanctification, like justification, is part of salvation, and endless confusion will be avoided if we carefully distinguish between these two aspects of our salvation.
Justification is a legal declaration that we are righteous based on the alien imputed righteousness of Christ alone and received by faith alone. Justification, therefore, delivers us from sin’s guilt. Sanctification is God’s work of making elect, believing, justified sinners holy. Sanctification, therefore, delivers us from sin’s defilement. Both justification and sanctification are necessary because we need deliverance from both the guilt and defilement of sin.
Salvation is in its entirety from beginning to end the work of God. Therefore, God alone justifies and God alone sanctifies. Just as we cannot justify ourselves, so we cannot make ourselves holy. Sanctification is the peculiar work of the Spirit, which is why He is called the Holy Spirit. Justification is God’s act as Judge in declaring us righteous. Sanctification is a work which God performs in our souls in which He works holiness into us. Justification changes our legal state or status. Sanctification changes our actual moral condition. God never simply justifies us and then leaves us in our sins. Whom God justifies He also sanctifies. Justification is the once-for-all, final, legal verdict of Almighty God as Judge: justification cannot be overturned, changed, annulled, increased or decreased. Sanctification is a progressive work of God in us, by which we are transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.
There are other differences between justification and sanctification as well. In justification we are passive. God declares concerning us that we are righteous. We did nothing at all. In sanctification we are active. God does not sanctify us without means: He uses our activity of living in good works; He uses prayer; He uses the means of grace (the preaching and the sacraments) received by faith in order to make us more and more holy. We must not imagine that we will simply be “zapped” with holiness as we sleep! Sanctification requires of us that we fight against sin in ourselves and produce good works. In sanctification, says the Belgic Confession, God “make[s] him [the believer] a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin.” However, we must also understand that sanctification is never dependent on us. Sanctification is not even a cooperative effort between God and us. In sanctification we are active, and God will not sanctify us without our activity, but God produces activity in us.
If you understand that as a sinner you are not only guilty, but also defiled, polluted and enslaved by sin, you will rejoice in sanctification as much as in justification. You will pray, “Lord, sanctify me. Make me holy. Cause me more and more to die unto sin and to live unto righteousness. Cleanse me and create in me a new heart.”
What man who stands accused before the law is content merely to hear the justifying verdict from the judge without also experiencing freedom? Sanctification is the blessedness we experience as we leave God’s court, free to serve Him in thankfulness for what He has done for us. Let us live thus to God’s glory.
Rev. Martyn McGeown (Larisa)
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010; Providence PRC (Hudsonville, MI), Sept. 2021Website: www.prca.org/current/news/churches/usa-canada/providence-prc-hudsonville-mi
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