Posted by: joelrbeeke | August 5, 2008

John Calvin on Piety – Part Five

Piety’s Double Cleansing: Justification and Sanctification

According to Calvin, believers receive from Christ by faith the “double grace” of justification and sanctification, which, together, provide a twofold cleansing. Justification offers imputed purity, and sanctification, actual purity.
Calvin defines justification as “the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men.” He goes on to say that “since God justifies us by the intercession of Christ, he absolves us not by the confirmation of our own innocence but by the imputation of righteousness, so that we who are not righteous in ourselves may be reckoned as such in Christ.” Justification includes the remission of sins and the right to eternal life.

Calvin regards justification as a central doctrine of the Christian faith. He calls it “the principal hinge by which religion is supported,” the soil out of which the Christian life develops, and the substance of piety. Justification not only serves God’s honor by satisfying the conditions for salvation; it also offers the believer’s conscience “peaceful rest and serene tranquility.” As Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the heart and soul of piety. Believers do not need to worry about their status with God because they are justified by faith. They can willingly renounce personal glory and daily accept their own life from the hand of their Creator and Redeemer. Daily skirmishes may be lost to the enemy, but Jesus Christ has won the war for them.

Sanctification refers to the process in which the believer increasingly becomes conformed to Christ in heart, conduct, and devotion to God. It is the continual remaking of the believer by the Holy Spirit, the increasing consecration of body and soul to God. In sanctification, the believer offers himself to God as a sacrifice. This does not come without great struggle and slow progress; it requires cleansing from the pollution of the flesh and renouncing the world. It requires repentance, mortification, and daily conversion.

Justification and sanctification are inseparable, Calvin says. To separate one from the other is to tear Christ in pieces, or like trying to separate the sun’s light from the heat that light generates. Believers are justified for the purpose of worshipping God in holiness of life.

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Responses

  1. I think clarification is needed about sanctification. Is it a work of God or a work of man? Is it a process or is it an event?

    The following statement leads one to believe that sanctification is a work of God in an event. “According to Calvin, believers receive from Christ by faith the “double grace” of justification and sanctification, which, together, provide a twofold cleansing. Justification offers imputed purity, and sanctification, actual purity.”

    However, the following statement leads one to believe that it is a work of man in a life-long process. “Sanctification refers to the process in which the believer increasingly becomes conformed to Christ in heart, conduct, and devotion to God. It is the continual remaking of the believer by the Holy Spirit, the increasing consecration of body and soul to God. In sanctification, the believer offers himself to God as a sacrifice. This does not come without great struggle and slow progress; it requires cleansing from the pollution of the flesh and renouncing the world. It requires repentance, mortification, and daily conversion.”

    I think the later statement which emphasizes the work of man in a life-long process is the most commonly held belief by Christians. Yet, when I did a keyword study at Gateway in New American Standard Version on any of the words “sancitify, sanctifies, sanctification”, I found that sanctification is more like a work of God in an event.

    In Leviticus alone, there are eight references to the strong language identical or like: “I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” Our hope is 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Where sanctify does refer to human action, it is almost always a singular event, and not in the meaning of making us holy, such as in Exodus 13:2: “Sanctify to Me every firstborn…” or such as in 1 Peter 3:15: “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, …”.

    In summary, a review of the Bible references makes it very clear that we should view and portray sanctification as a work of God, not as a work of man nor as a joint effort. This also would be more consistent with Calvin’s statement which I first quoted from the post “…believers receive from Christ by faith the “double grace” of justification and sanctification …” Moreover, although we do grow in faith and in our Christian walk over a lifetime, a review of the Bible references makes it very clear that we should view and portray sanctification as a gift from God, more like an event than a process in the sense that we have received it in whole through the accomplished work of Christ and do not need to receive it in bits and pieces over time in a process dependent on us.


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