Put to death . . . whatever belongs to your earthly nature.
“Grace has about it the scent of scandal,” Philip Yancey observes. The Bible asserts that there is nothing we can do to earn it. Prostitutes, thieves, and murderers can find acceptance with God through the grace of Christ. But doesn’t behavior also matter?
Behavior matters to God, but it is not the basis for His acceptance. The secret to understanding this lies in the distinction between justification and sanctification. Justification is God’s determination to forgive us on the basis of what Christ has done. It is a divine accounting, where God wipes out our debt of sin and transfers the righteousness of Christ to us. We make no contribution of our own to this transaction. We merely accept it on the basis of faith.
In sanctification we draw upon this account. To sanctify means “to make holy.” Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (v. 11). Sanctification is a product of justification. But unlike justification, which involves a change in our relationship with God, sanctification involves a change in our behavior. In justification God bestows righteousness upon us. In sanctification our behavior reflects that righteousness. In order for our behavior to change, we must experience new life or regeneration. This is the experience of being united with Christ in His resurrection so that we can live a new life.
Sanctification, since it reflects our practice, is a progressive experience. We can grow in the practice of holiness. Justification, since it is based upon the righteousness of Christ, is not progressive. When God justifies us, He credits all the righteousness of Christ to our account. Although the two are related, the order is vitally important. Justification always precedes sanctification. God must first make us holy before we can be holy.
Apply the Word
If sanctification is a result of justification, why don’t all Christians live for God? In some cases it is ignorance. It is significant that Paul begins today’s passage with an emphasis on knowledge. You may know that Jesus has forgiven your sins. Do you also know that He gives you the ability to live for God? Because you are under grace, sin is no longer your master.