An Important Balance In Understanding HolinessWritten by Johnathan Newman
ll our church wide study, on The Hole In Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, has begun. I hope it is helpful and deepening for you all. My years in ministry are not as long as some pastors, but hey, I’m getting up there! And in those years, I’ve noticed this very common pothole when people think about holiness. Is Christianity all about the grace and forgiveness because God knows we’re all imperfect so our sins are no big deal since He understands why we’re such unholy people? Or is it that our sins really are a big deal to God and we really must change our behavior and work hard to live a clean life?
Have you noticed it? So in other words if a person is saved and forgiven, is it no big deal for them to be concerned about the kind of movies they watch, how they act on a date, the way they talk to or treat others, what their private thought life is like, or how much time they spend in meditation and prayer, etc.? Or are these things a really big deal and someone might even lose their salvation over such things?
The Bible does not give us either one of these extremes. Rather, it tells us our sins are a big deal even though God has forgiven us for them AND that He doesn’t revoke our salvation when we give in to sin again.
An all-important balance must be struck. It’s the balance God gives us in His word: both justification AND sanctification are true. Misunderstanding or neglecting either will lead to a crippled faith and an unbiblical distortion of Christianity. So briefly, let’s clarify the two.
Justification is found in verses like 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” That means faith in Christ makes us completely forgiven, no longer seen as guilty by God. It also means that we have “become the righteousness of God in Him.” So one aspect of our salvation is that God has declared us perfectly righteous because we are now in Christ. This is what some call “positional holiness”. Our position of being in Christ means we cannot be holier than we are right now.
Sanctification is the other side of the coin, a second aspect of our salvation. It is found in passages like Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” In sanctification believers are commanded to strive after holiness getting sin out of our lives, obeying God more. In this aspect of salvation we certainly can be holier than we are right now.
Biblical Christianity isn’t a matter of deciding which one of these ways we should believe and live but rather understanding that both are true at the same time. In other words, the believer is justified, declared fully righteous by God, and in His eyes cannot be holier than he is at this moment because he is in Christ. But on the other hand, now that they are in Christ, they are commanded to pursue after holiness living a life that is more and more free from sin and conformed to Christ.
Thinking only about justification could lead one to think, "since I'm forgiven and seen as holy in God's eyes, I don't need to exame my life, confess my sins, or try very hard to obey God. On the other hand, thinking only about sanctification could lead one to have no confidence they have been saved and forgiven by God and live by the false doctrine that God accepts them according to their works instead of faith alone.
Which tendency do you see in yourself? Typically we tend to fall into one error or the other. This is why we need the regular teaching of the Bible so we grow more and more to be balanced and healthy disciples. May this study help us all to grow to be exactly that!
I am a pastor, preacher of the gospel, husband of a wonderful wife, Jeni, and father of 3 awesome kids. I love running, hunting, fishing, camping, and coaching baseball.
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