Not only is the means of our salvation — justification — essential, but so is the process of our salvation, called sanctification.
If one asserts (as is true) that justification is only by faith in Christ, then so must our sanctification be by faith in Christ. Or to state the same truth in the opposite manner, it is impossible to be justified by the Law and it is impossible to be sanctified by the keeping of the Law.
The temptation all men face is to suppose that they can do something to fulfill God’s commands and thus commend themselves to Him. They suppose that there is some means by which they can obey the Law. But the problem is that the Law must be kept perfectly (Mt. 5:48). And perfectly means just that — perfectly — without exception or diminution. And to fail to keep even one part of the Law results in violation of the entire Law, because the entire Law is a unit, not a series of isolated rules (Js. 2:10).
So, try as some men might, there is no ability to keep the Law and sanctify oneself. Those who attempt to stand before God though their own merit are like so many toddlers who declare, “I do it myself!” And when anyone attempts that folly, he does well to read the questions (and intended and implied answers) by Paul in Galatians 3:
- How did you receive the Spirit of God (v. 2)? [By grace through faith]
- Are you now perfected in the flesh (v. 3)? [No]
- Did you experience Christ in vain (v. 4)? [I hope not]
- Does God do His work in you through the Law or by hearing (Him and His truth) through faith (v. 5)? [By His Word, through faith]
Salvation is the singular work of God. There is no salvation by the flesh and there is no sanctification by the flesh. Their own experiences (“suffering”) should have taught the Galatians that. So the inescapable conclusion is that God works to progressively sanctify us only by means of His truth working in us through faith and trust.
The merit of the Christian is not his own. The merit of the believer in Christ is the justifying and sanctifying work of Christ.
This is our hope.