Are We Basing Justification on Sanctification?
There were some Rabbis in the early first century who were teaching that if all of them (the Pharisees) would just obey the whole law for a single day it would usher in the Messianic Age. Resultantly you had certain quarters of Judaism who were intent on keeping every aspect of the law. Wouldn't it be ironic if Saul (Paul), in his zeal, in the persecution of the early 1st century church, was attempting to bring about the Messianic Age? What irony there would be if, in doing so, he was fighting against the very thing (Jesus) he was trying to bring about?
We must also take heed lest we take our eyes off of Christ in an attempt to fulfill God's purpose in some performance-based way. Or to put it theologically, trying to base your justification on your sanctification, to which the book of Galatians says, "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3) This solemn warning from Paul (who, since the Damascus road, now understood grace) that humans are in constant danger of exchanging God's grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ for merit-based Christianity. This is not only a problem with many 1st century Jews but is a human problem, something we are all prone to, for we really want to feel as if we are somehow contributing to the price of our redemption. We would never say it this way, but such feelings are innate, subtle and deadly. Thus the need to preach the gospel to ourselves, as Christians, every day, reminding ourselves that we are united to Christ, are to glory in Him and have no confidence in the flesh. All merit/performance/works based righteousness in inimical to the gospel of salvation. But thanks be to God, the gospel liberates us from all such moralism, that is, all attempts to attain our maintain our justification before God through self-effort.
The gospel is not only for unbelievers but reminds Christians daily of our need of Jesus Christ. When Jesus tells us to abide in Him, it is a call to forsake trust in self, even as a Christian. God must not only fill our minds and direct our behavior, but must fill our hearts as the continual object of our adoration. We must NEVER fall into the trap of believing that what God does for us depends first on what we do for God. If your purpose of reading the Bible, praying, giving etc. is not springing from a new heart out of love for what God has already accomplished for you once for all in Christ, but rather is slavishly given in the hope of getting God's favor or even maintaining our just standing before God then you need to recall the gospel to mind. Have you so quickly forgotten it? God's grace cannot be earned before or after salvation. It only comes free. Only in fleeing to Christ do good works flow out of a renewed heart.
The gospel is our only way out of moralism. Jesus Christ has already done everything necessary for your just standing before God. So reject your own righteousness, and repent of trusting in your good works, in your virtue or politics for they fall woefully short of Christ. Trusting anything else in addition to Christ is nothing less that to erroneously believe that His work on the cross is insufficient. So cast out the inner Pharisee that daily whispers in your ear that God's love for you is conditional, depending what level you have reached in the Christian life. This moralism or merit-based Christianity is difficult to leave behind, but YOU MUST DO SO because it denies the grace of God. You are saved by grace and you must live and be sanctified by grace as well.
One of the reasons I bring this up is because there are and always have been errors in the church regarding this important issue. While it is indeed true that justification is now and in the future. Our initial justification is received by faith alone and we also await the future consummation of our redemption. There is indeed an already/not yet aspect to our justification. But according to some new perspectives, future justification, acquittal at judgment day, always takes place on the basis of the totality of the life lived. This raises the very important question as to whether they believe the sinner must maintain his own just standing before God through his own covenantal faithfulness. In other words, does justification partly depend on the sinner?. If so I contend they are in serious danger of affirming that what Christ accomplished is not itself sufficient. It is a rejection of salvation by grace alone from beginning to end. We all agree that the Christian must obey, the question is, does He obey because of a desire springing from his new nature in Christ, or does he obey in order to maintain his just standing before God? The sufficiency of Christ is at stake here. Has the Holy Spirit been granted him as a deposit guaranteeing his redemption, or does our doings contribute something on top of Christ's work? We affirm that Christians must indeed persevere to the end (Col 1:21-23, 1 John 1:5-10; 3:3-6, Hebrews 10:26-31, Hebrews 12:1), but the Scripture likewise affirms that true Christians will persevere to the end, because Christ preserves them. (John 6:38-40, 10:28-29, 15:16, Romans 8:28-39, Philippians 1:4-6, Philippians 2:12-13, 1 John 2:19).