1. Hello Guest! You are browsing the forums as a guest; you will have limited permissions as a guest so we advise registering to enjoy the forums fully. Remember: we are a Christian ONLY site - any user who is not Christian will not be approved. Blessings, Christian Forum Site Staff
    Dismiss Notice

Is Sanctification By Law Or By Faith?

Discussion in 'Bible Study' started by Fadingman, Mar 25, 2015.

  1. We tend to misunderstand what was going on in the Galatian church. Well, let me rephrase. I have misunderstood what was going on in the Galatian church, …but I do think many of us share the same misunderstanding.

    What I mean is, as we read Paul's epistle to the Galatians, we assume they were trying to be saved by the works of the Law of Moses. It's real easy to come to this conclusion when we see warnings of "a different gospel," and read statements like "a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through the faith of Jesus Christ," and "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." There is so much justification-by-grace-through-faith doctrine in Paul's letter that we think he was correcting their misunderstanding about how we come to salvation. And there is nothing wrong with applying the doctrine in this manner. We are saved by faith, not by works. Any gospel that says otherwise is a false one. But salvation by works was not their main problem.

    While there may have been exceptions, for the most part, the Galatians were not trying to earn their salvation. They had already received the true gospel (Galatians 1:9,4:9), and as a result they had already received the Holy Spirit by faith (Galatians 3:2, Ephesians 1:14). Getting saved was not their problem. The issue was how they lived after they were saved. They had a misunderstanding of sanctification.

    That their problem was a practical one can be seen in Galatians 2:10, where Paul mentions Peter, James and John's instructions on how believing Gentiles are to live, while leaving out any instructions on how Gentiles are to be saved(1). But it becomes much more evident in chapter 3 where Paul really starts chewing them out:

    Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
    - Galatians 3:3 (KJV)

    This is the first place where Paul directly confronts them with their error. Notice the word 'Spirit' here. This is a gigantic clue he is not talking about how to become or stay saved …otherwise he would have said something like, "having begun in Christ." It is the Holy Spirit's role to make us practically righteous, not to declare us righteous before God.

    The Greek word for 'perfect', epiteleo, is used nine times elsewhere in the New Testament. Every one of those usages refer to accomplishing something through actions(2). Epiteleo is never used in reference to our gaining or maintaining a right standing before God. In other words, we have no need to perfect our righteous status before God, because Jesus has already perfected it.

    Also notice Paul did not condemn his readers merely for seeking perfection. He condemned them for the manner in which they sought it. This is another clue that sanctification is the topic at hand. The Galatian believers were trying to attain practical perfection through the Law. They thought they could achieve sanctification by works of the flesh. But sanctification is purely God's work (John 17:17, Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 5:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 2:11, 10:10, 13:12, 1 Peter 1:2, 3:15). They began their walk correctly ('by the Spirit'), but then they ceased submitting to the leading of the Holy Spirit and let the Judaizers divert them. No wonder Paul was upset with them!

    Although we apply the doctrine of justification in this epistle to our evangelism of the lost, it was written primarily to us believers, because we are vulnerable to the Galatians' error. Sanctification by works is a much subtler error than justification by works, because it infects our minds so easily without knowing it. In some churches today, the Holy Spirit's role goes no further than doctrine. Practically speaking, the Trinity becomes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps this is a reaction against the errors of some who tend to have a fixation on the Holy Spirit at the expense of good doctrine. I don't know. But I do know there are serious dangers in trying to live by the Law:
    • It actually empowers sin in our lives (Romans 5:20, 7:5,8, 1 Corinthians 15:56). The more we seek to live by the Law, the more power sin has over us, even if that sin is only a prideful self-righteous attitude over others. It's not the Law's fault – the Law is righteous and good. But our flesh still has sinful desires which attempts to use the requirements of the Law to make itself look good.
    • We downplay what Paul said in Galatians 3:10, that those who insist on living by the law are under a curse, because they put themselves in debt to keep the whole law, with its sacrificial system, holy days, circumcision, etc. While this is not the curse of Galatians 1:8,9, it is still a very bad thing.
    • And a legalistic sanctification mindset slowly infects our justification mindset, eventually sowing seeds of doubt about our salvation.
    I think a big part of the problem is our lack of appreciation of the gospel. When we read or hear a message about the death of Jesus, or the importance of trusting in Him, we file the information away under the heading 'How To Be Saved', not realizing the gospel is also good news about what God does to enable us to overcome sin in our day-to-day lives(3). Jesus' death on the cross not only has justification benefits, it has sanctification benefits (Romans 8:3-4), and both come on the same basis: by grace through faith.

    The Christian life is not one of following a standard but of following a Person. Many believe the only way to avoid sin is by keeping the Law. They are unaware that walking in the Spirit and abiding in Christ prevents sin, and does so much better than trying to obey the Law. (I'm not advocating lawlessness – that would lead to sin. Instead, we are to live by a different law: the law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2-4).)

    But we lack faith to live this way. We'd rather hold on to our own works through law-keeping because we're afraid to trust God to make us holy. As a result, we find no real victory over sinful habits.

    Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
    - Galatians 3:24-25 (KJV)

    Justification happens as a one-time event, but sanctification is a process that continues for the rest of our lives. We don't drop law-keeping at the point of salvation, and then immediately take it back up again afterwards. We are no longer under that schoolmaster(4). We live by faith. Faith is not only the beginning of the way of life but its entirety. The faith that trusts God to justify us when we abandon our self-righteous works and believe in Jesus is the same faith that trusts that He will sanctify us as well when we abandon our self-righteous works and walk in His Holy Spirit. It is part of the same gospel. This is why Paul uses the doctrine of justification to address how the Galatians lived the Christian life. Sanctification is tied inseparably to justification.

    We do not partake of a partial grace that gets us into heaven but doesn't make us fit to live there. The gospel is the good news of all that God does to restore us to Himself. If we continue to rely on law-keeping to make ourselves presentable to God, it would be well to ask ourselves what Paul asked the Galatian believers: "Are we so foolish?"

    I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of {i.e. 'in'} the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness [come] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
    - Galatians 2:20-21 (KJV)


    (1) This is also seen in the practical words "our liberty in Christ" in verse 4, and "walked" in verse 14. Even the word 'gospel' in chapter 2 is repeatedly used in the context of how believers are to live, showing the gospel includes the doctrine of sanctification as well as justification. When Paul rebuked Peter in Galatians 2:11-21, it was over a practical issue of how he lived, not about his lack of faith in Jesus to save him. ↩

    (2) The word is used elsewhere in Luke 13:32 ('perform cures'), Romans 15:28 ('I have performed this'), 2 Cor. 7:1 ('perfecting holiness'), 2 Cor. 8:6 ('he would finish'), 2 Cor. 8:11 ('perform'), Php 1:6 ('He will perform'), Heb. 8:5 ('make the tabernacle'), Heb 9:6 ('accomplishing the service'), 1 Pet. 5:9 ('afflictions are accomplished'). ↩

    (3) Another confusing point is that Paul uses the word 'justified' six times in his letter, while never using ‘sanctified’. We like to separate the meanings of the words into how to get saved and how to live. But these words are sometimes used interchangeably. We need to pay attention to the context. In this letter, even though we see Paul using the word ‘justified’, he writes about how we are live. ↩

    (4) The Law still has a purpose: to convict men of sin and to lead them to Christ. As the standard, it remains. But the Mosaic Law is eliminated as a means of living (Romans 7:1-6). Look at Paul who used to follow the Law "blamelessly" before he was saved (Philippians 3:6). After he was saved he didn't use his salvation as an opportunity to keep the Law more perfectly. Instead, he counted law-keeping a total "loss". This is what he meant when he called the Galatians (and us) to "be as I am; for I am as you are." If you find this difficult to accept, I suggest reading straight through the epistle to the Galatians once a day for at least a week, so you can get familiar with the flow of Paul's argument. ↩
  2. Thank you Fadingman,
    Not to redirect this thread, but in considering your post, I would appreciate a discussion on the meaning of "sanctification" in this context.

    Some have taken the view that it means to be held separate, as apart from the activities of other people.
    In my view, it is difficult to do the work the Lord has for us unless we act within the society we find ourselves while holding our actions to the Lord's standards rather than adopting the standards of the world.
    You mention sanctification as something that happens over our whole lives. Is this a progressive process or is it a condition that exists or should exist in our lives?
  3. I know sanctification has different meanings depending on the context. Most cases of the word refer to God setting us apart to Himself when He saves us, and is used of us in the past-tense. But I am referring to growing more like Christ in thought, mind, and actions. This is a process that takes time, and is God's on-going work (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). It affects how we live (1 Thessalonians 4:2-8).

Share This Page