This article first appeared in the March 15, 1988 issue of the Standard Bearer and was written by Rev. David J. Engelsma. It is part of a special issue, as explained by the editor: "This is the second of our special issues for the current volume-year, and also the fifth of our series on the Order of Salvation. It is devoted in its entirety to the subject of Sanctification."
"Go, and Sin No More"
“And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” John 8:11
In Jesus’ Word to the woman taken in adultery are perfectly set forth the salvation-realities of justification and sanctification; their relationship; and their difference. “Neither do I condemn thee”—this is justification; “go, and sin no more”—this is sanctification: The former is the Lords Word that frees from the deserved punishment of sin; the latter is His Word that liberates from the enslaving power of sin. The Word of pardon is first; the Word of purifying follows. But never has the Savior spoken the Word of forgiveness to a sinner without adding, immediately, the Word of holiness. Declared to be uncondemned, the woman goes from Jesus in peace; commanded no more to sin, she goes in the power of a holy life.
Together, justification and sanctification make up the one, great work of the salvation of the elect sinner from his sin. Justification rescues from sin as guilt; sanctification delivers from sin as power. Both are mighty acts of Jesus by His Holy Spirit. Both are accomplished through the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 1:16, 17; John 17:17). Both are bestowed upon the sinner, and enjoyed by him, through faith alone (Rom. 3:28; Acts 15:9). Both are gifts of pure grace for which the sinner is indebted to God (Rom. 3:24; Rom. 6:17). Both are grounded in the cross of Jesus Christ and come to the sinner as the out-working of Christ’s atoning death (Rom. 3:24, 25; Rom. 6:1 ff.).
Still, the distinction between them is fundamental. Whereas justification cancels the sinner’s debt of punishment owed to God, sanctification dethrones sin’s power in his life. Whereas by justification, the sinner is reckoned to be righteous before God, i.e., his legal status before God the Judge is that of innocence; by sanctification, he actually becomes a good and holy man, loving God and his neighbor. Whereas justification is a Word of Jesus thatdeclares a man to be righteous, with the righteousness of Another, even Jesus Christ, sanctification is a Word that makes the man righteous, with a righteousness, that is so much his own that he vigorously wages war with sin and actively performs all manner of good works. Justification is a perfect work already in this life—as justified, the woman taken in adultery stood before her Judge as one who had never committed the sin of adultery, or any other sin; and of this she was fully and perfectly conscious at the moment He said, “Neither do I condemn thee.” Sanctification is a progressive work throughout the life of the saint—as sanctified, the woman taken in adultery would struggle the rest of her life against her depraved nature, including adulterous thoughts and desires, in order to yield herself, more and more, to the Holy Spirit, until sin was abolished for her at her death. Although holiness is victorious in the saint already in this life (“sin shall not have dominion over you”—Rom. 6:14), holiness is not, and cannot be, perfected in him, for he retains his corrupt nature until death (cf. the Belgic Confession, Article XV).
To confuse justification and sanctification, as Rome does by its teaching that justification is Christ’s work of infusing righteousness into the sinner, i.e., making him holy, so that he produces good works, in order then to forgive him on the basis of the good works that he himself performs and in order then to pronounce him worthy of an eternal life which he himself has merited, is fatally to flaw the gospel of grace. In this case, the sinner’s right to eternal life is, in part, his own work, and not the work of Jesus alone. Depending for forgiveness and eternal life upon his own work, the sinner cannot find peace with God. Only a Word of justification that excludes all the sinner’s own work from consideration magnifies the grace of God, and sends the sinner away in peace. Only such a Word can then be followed by a Word of sanctification that causes the forgiven sinner to walk, if not to run, in the way of holiness, willingly and joyfully.
Just as these two great saving works of Christ must be carefully distinguished, so must their relationship be noted with exactness. Sanctification invariably accompanies justification. The woman taken in adultery is not an exception, but the rule to which there is no exception. Whom the Savior forgives, He also makes holy. Whenever He says, “I do not condemn thee,” He always adds, “go, and sin no more”; and He does so at once. The unholy church member is only deceiving himself, if he supposes that the Word of justification has come to him. The sinner who goes out from the preaching of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins by the sheer mercy of the Great King only to seize his brother by the throat on the church parking lot, demanding, “Pay me that thou owest,” shows by that unholiness that he never was forgiven (Matthew 18:21ff.). The man professing to have faith who does not clothe the naked, and feed the hungry brother or sister, not only exposes himself as unholy, but also as lacking justification, his faith being a dead faith (James 2:14ff.). Salvation from sin for every sinner is one complete washing; concerning all living members of the congregation, therefore, the apostle is confident that “ye are sanctified, . . . ye are justified’ (I Cor. 6:11).
The teaching that one can have pardon without purification, or, as some put it, that one can have Jesus as Savior without having Him as Lord, is false doctrine. It puts asunder what God has joined together: divides Christ; cheapens salvation; and sends sinners down the broad way that leads to destruction, assuring them all the while that they are bound for heaven. Nevertheless, this teaching is one of the most pervasive and pernicious errors in Protestantism today. It appears wherever churches offer the grace of forgiveness, while denying the necessity of the forgiven sinner’s walking henceforth on the narrow way of obedience to God’s Law. The heresy is boldly and shamelessly defended when, in response to the objection of some who still have some concern for holiness, that the church is tolerating public transgression of God’s law among her membership, the church exclaims, “But we proclaim the Word of grace here.” What is the church really saying? “It is possible, indeed by this time it is the rule, to enjoy forgiveness without holiness; you can have Jesus as Savior without having Him as Lord.” To many adulteresses and adulterers, the churches are saying, in our time, “Neither do we condemn you: go.” Nothing more. Indeed, by virtue of the fact that they say nothing more, they are saying, “. . . go, and keep right on sinning your sin of adultery.”
The Reformed faith abhors and denounces this blasphemy of the Savior, as The Scotch Confession of Faith (A.D. 1560) expresses:
For this wee maist boldelie affirme, that blasphemy it is to say, that Christ abydes in the heartes of sik, as in whome there is no spirite of sanctification, And therefore we feir not to affirme, that murtherers, oppressers, cruel1 persecuters, adulterers, huremongers, filthy persons, Idolaters, drunkards, thieves, and al workers of iniquity, have nether trew faith, nether ony portion of the Spirit of the Lord JESUS, so long as obstinatlie they continew in their wickednes. For. how soone that ever the Spirit of the Lord JESUS, quhilk (which) Gods elect children receive be trew faith, taks possession in the heart of ony man, so soone dois he regenerate and renew the same man. (Art. XIII)
Concerning “justifying faith,” the Belgic Confession states that “it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man,” i.e., that it should not “excite man to the practice of those works, which God has commanded in His Word” (Art. XXIV). Francis Turretin is typical of all Reformed theologians, regarding the relationship of justification and sanctification, when he says, “Although we may be of opinion that these two benefits must be distinguished and never confused, yet they are connected by the ordinance of God and the nature of the thing, so that they are never to be torn asunder” (cf. H. Heppe,Reformed Dogmatics, 1950, p. 566).
Sanctification follows justification (I refer to Christ’s work as the believer experiences it). “Go, and sin no more” is based squarely upon the preceding “neither do I condemn thee.” There is no fear, therefore, in the woman’s heart, as she obeys the command to resist sin, that her pardon is conditioned by her obedience. Nor is her motive in not sinning a slave’s dread of punishment, which would spoil all her apparent good works. But she goes from Jesus as one freely, graciously, and unconditionally forgiven and, therefore, as one who out of thankfulness will obey His lordly command to sin no more. She cannot but practice good works in the love that she has for the Judge Who has not condemned her.
This practice of good works is the goal of justification. Sanctification does not merely follow justification, as “b” follows “a”; but it is the end, or goal, at which justification aims. Sanctification, therefore, may not be disparaged in comparison with justification, whether in the church’s preaching or in the thinking of believers. Ultimately, this is because the purpose of the Savior with His saving work is not simply the peace of the elect sinner, but the glory of God in him. “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (John 15:8).
Prof.David J. Engelsma (Wife: Ruth)
Ordained: September 1963
Pastorates: Loveland, CO - 1963; South Holland, IL - 1974; Professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1988; Emeritus - 2008Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof_D._Engelsma
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