Sixth, the Bible alerts us to a particular pattern for the believer’s sanctification. Every believer must pursue those good works that the Bible requires of us. These good works are done in obedience to the moral law of God (see WCF 16.1; HC 115). Good works are important for many reasons in the Christian life, not least to serve as “the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith” and to “strengthen [our] assurance” (WCF 16.2; compare Belgic Confession 24). Our obedience to God is both a duty and a delight. We obey God’s law both because we have to and because we want to. The life of sanctification is also an ongoing struggle against our enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil (WCF 13.2; see Rom. 7:14–25; Gal. 5:17). This battle will have its share of setbacks and disappointments, but we fight in light of the victory that Christ has already won on our behalf over sin and death (see 1 John 3:9; 4:4; 5:4–5). And because of God’s commitment to finish what He starts, we know that God will complete the project of sanctification that He has begun in our lives (Phil. 1:6; compare Canons of Dort V.13, WCF 13.3).
Seventh, we should ask how justification and sanctification are different from each other. Each grace is the possession of the believer. There is no justified believer who is not also being sanctified. But these graces are distinct from each other in at least four ways (see WLC 77). First, justification is an act of God’s grace, while sanctification is a work of God’s grace (compare WLC 71, 75). That is to say, justification is a one-time, definitive, legal declaration in God’s courtroom in which we are “counted righteous.” God pronounces this verdict the moment a person comes to faith in Christ. Sanctification is an ongoing and progressive work of God in the life of a believer. Second, justification is presently perfect, while sanctification is presently imperfect “but growing up to perfection” (WLC 77). You cannot be more justified than you are presently. But you can and will be more sanctified, and one day you will be perfectly sanctified. Third, justification addresses the guilt of sin, while sanctification addresses the dominion and presence of sin. In justification, God pardons our sins. In sanctification, God once for all rescues us from bondage to sin and, gradually, removes the presence and influence of sin from our thinking, our choices, our priorities, and our behavior. Fourth, in justification, God “imputes the righteousness of Christ”; in sanctification, God by His Spirit “infuses grace, and enables to the exercise thereof” (WLC 77). In justification, the righteousness of Christ is imputed or counted to the believer in God’s courtroom and received through faith alone. This imputed righteousness is the sole basis for our justification. In sanctification, God infuses grace such that we become inwardly more and more righteous in our lives.
The Reformed confessions aim to help Christians understand the Bible’s teaching clearly and fully. Their goal, we have seen, is to help us live to the glory and praise of God. Truth is always according to godliness (Titus 1:1). If we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, then we now stand perfectly and unchangeably justified. In love, gratitude, and obedience to our great triune God, let us aim for nothing less than what we one day shall be—to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.