Just for Catholics


After discussing justification, we must turn our attention to yet another aspect of salvation: sanctification (or holiness). The Lord Jesus saves in every respect. He does not only liberate us from guilt and the punishment of sin. Marvellous as that is, his purpose is also to set us free from the dominion and pollution of sin. ‘Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word’ (Eph 5:25, 26).

Holy Calling

Scripture calls all believers ‘saints’ or ‘holy ones’ (see Rom 1:7; 8:27; 15:25, 26, 31; 16:2, 15, etc.). The term ‘holy’ means separated, set apart, consecrated. Christians are ‘saints’ because we are cleansed by the blood of Christ and consecrated to God by the Holy Spirit. All members of the church, whoever we may be, are saints. We are saints now, today, during our lifetime on earth. All of us who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are ‘sanctified by faith’ in him (Acts 26:18).

Now since we are saints, we have a special vocation to walk in holiness and righteousness. We do not attempt to be godly in order to become saints, but because we are saints already. Thus the Bible commands us, ‘Fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints’ (Eph 5:3). It is appropriate for saints to live saintly, or holy, lives, since we were set apart from the world and consecrated to God.

As Christians we have a sacred duty to seek an ever-increasing measure of holiness. This appears from various scriptures: ‘Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (2 Cor 7:1). ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality’ (1 Thess 4:3). ‘Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb 12:14). ‘As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, Be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Pet 1:15, 16).

Sometimes Evangelical Christians say, ‘We are sinners just like the others.’ That is false humility; it is but a lame excuse for a mediocre lifestyle. It is much better to acknowledge the reality of God’s transforming grace in our hearts and lives. Scripture never places Christians in the same category as lost people. We are not sinners just like the others. On the contrary, as we have seen, the regular descriptive term used for Christians is ‘saints’. We are in urgent need of changing our mentality. We ought to strive to live as saints, to the glory and praise of God who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.

Holy Walk

Sanctification is God’s work in us (2 Thess 5:23), through the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11; 15:16; 1 Pet 1:2). However this does not imply that we remain passive and inactive. God renews our will and gives us the strength do what is right.

God’s work in us becomes evident in our new desires, choices and actions – we get baptised, pray, praise and thank God, fast, hear and meditate on the Word, participate in the Lord’s Supper, work with our hands, flee temptation, confess our sins, repent, meet together to encourage and edify one another, forgive, seek and accept good counsel, learn patience, kindness and self-control. By God’s empowering, Christians are very active!

The basic means of our sanctification, which God has provided us with, is his holy Word. ‘Sanctify them by Your truth,’ Jesus prayed for us, and continued by saying, ‘Your word is truth’ (John 17:17). God’s Word progressively changes the way we think, which in turn changes our values, choices, mentality and character.

There are degrees or different levels of holiness: there is always the possibility to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I cannot be more justified today than I was on the day I first believed, but more holy, I certainly can be. The apostle Paul expresses a realistic attitude: ‘Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead’ (Phil 3:13).

No Christian reaches a state of absolute moral perfection in this life. ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8). As long as he lived in the flesh, the apostle John could not say, ‘I have no sin’, -- and neither can we. The Bible is intensely realistic, warning us that ‘the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another’ (Gal 5:17). The battle rages on for a lifetime. The Christian fights, struggles and overcomes evil; when he falls, he repents and confesses his sin to the Lord. Daily he asks God for bread as well as for his fatherly forgiveness. The Christian anticipates the glorious day when he will be freed from all conflict; yet he also knows that as long as he is in the body, he must engage in spiritual warfare up to the very end.

Good Works

Good works are an essential part of the Christian experience. Speaking by the mouth of Zachariah, the Holy Spirit announced the purpose of God’s redemption before the birth of the Saviour. God delivers his people that we ‘might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life’ (Luke 1:75). Believers are saved to serve God.

The apostle Paul says, ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age’ (Titus 2:11-14). Those who are saved by grace are also taught to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and ‘Yes’ to righteousness. Why? Because Christ died for that very reason: He ‘gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.’

But someone might object, ‘Does not Paul say in Ephesians 2:8, 9 that we are saved by grace through faith and not of works?’ Yes indeed he does exclude personal works as the meritorious cause of our salvation, but in the very next verse, Paul presents works as the goal of our salvation.  The saved are ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.’ They who are not saved ‘by works’ are saved ‘for good works’. God has eternally determined that his children will do good works.

Justification and Holiness

Justification and sanctification are two inseparable but distinct aspects of salvation -- two sides of the same coin. It would be a serious error if they were mixed together as if they are one and the same thing. In justification, God declares believers righteous for Christ sake; in sanctification, God makes believers righteous by the Holy Spirit. Justification is a once-for-all judicial act of God about the believer; sanctification is the continual work of God’s Spirit in the believer. Justification gives a perfect legal standing forever; sanctification is a progressive work in the moral and spiritual life of the believer. A sinner is justified by faith alone apart from any merits of his works; the believer is sanctified by his faith working through love.

We are joined to Christ by faith. In this way we are forgiven and justified. But since we are united to our Saviour, this relationship must inevitably produce good fruit. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned’ (John 15:5, 6). A barren ‘faith’ is dead. It resembles the faith of demons: they too believe in one God, and yet they are damned. Saving faith, on the contrary, works by love and is rich in good works. In other words, where holiness is lacking there is no spiritual life, no true faith and no justification.

© Dr Joseph Mizzi. 2008. Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this article in any format provided that the wording is not altered and that no fee is charged. Please include the following statement on distributed copies: Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi. Website: www.justforcatholics.org. Used by permission.