Martin Luther could hardly be accused of teaching that we are justified by our good works, and this makes quite remarkable what he says about saving, justifying faith in his introduction to Romans from his translation of the Bible. He says that because of faith, we “freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown [us] such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!”
Luther’s statement reminds us that faith not only leads us to be declared righteous in God’s sight, but that it also results in our sanctification, which is the inward transformation we experience from the point of our conversion on. When we consider sanctification, note that Scripture speaks of it in two ways. First, the Bible describes the reality of positional or declarative sanctification. When we trust in Christ alone for salvation, we are definitively set apart as God’s holy people, our Creator’s special possession (1 Peter 2:9–10). We are holy in God’s sight and are forever marked as His. And yet, Scripture also tells us that until we are glorified, we are often unholy in practice. So, God’s Word calls us to engage with the Lord in the process of sanctification wherein we more and more die to self and live unto Christ, seeking to obey Him in all things. Because we have been marked out as holy, we are commanded to be holy, to become in our experience what we are already in God’s sight (vv. 11–12).
How does this process of sanctification advance? Since today’s passage says we are “sanctified by faith” in Christ (Acts 26:18), the answer is that faith is no less essential for our sanctification than it is for our justification. We must believe God in order to bear fruit for God. Our Creator calls us to do many things that seem strange from a this-worldly perspective. We are exhorted not to trust in princes, our bank accounts, or anything else in this world but to believe Christ and do what He says even when we know it will come at a great cost to us personally (Ps. 146:3; Luke 14:25–33). We will not place Him first and suffer for His name’s sake by obeying Him even when it is difficult unless we believe that He will reward us with more than we can ever imagine (Mark 10:29–31). In other words, without faith, we cannot pay the cost of discipleship that is required to conform us to Christ’s image. We are justified by faith, but even the sanctification and good works that follow our justification are based on faith.