Justification, or how we are declared righteous in the sight of God, is well known as one of the central concerns of the Protestant Reformation. However, recovering the biblical doctrine that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8–10) has ramifications for our understanding of sanctification, or how we are made holy in our minds, affections, bodies, and works. The reason for this, Paul explains in Romans 4–8, is that although we must distinguish justification from sanctification, we cannot separate them. Recovering the full biblical understanding of one will help us return to a scriptural view of the other.
When it comes to sanctification, the Reformers returned to the biblical idea that the indicative precedes and grounds the imperative. In other words, who we are in Christ comes before what the Lord orders us to do in Christ. God does not say, “Make yourselves holy and you will become holy”; rather, He says, “I have set you apart as holy in Christ, and since you are already holy, live in holiness.” Essentially, we are called to become what we already are in Christ—namely, holy.
Today’s passage is one place in Scripture that we can find this understanding of sanctification clearly presented. In 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul tells us that “since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement.” The Apostle refers back to what he has said about the reality of what we receive in Christ—namely, such things as our being declared righteous in Christ (5:21) and that God dwells in and among His people (6:16). Because of these objective truths, we must seek to become in practice what we are already in Christ. We have been declared righteous, so we must practice righteousness. God has come to dwell in and among us, so we must become in practice holy dwellings fit for God’s habitation. We must separate ourselves from any yoke—partnership—with unbelievers that requires us to sin (6:14–16).
In so doing, we work to bring “holiness to completion in the fear of God” (7:1). Having been adopted as God’s beloved children (John 1:12–13; Eph. 1:5), we have that filial love and respect for Him that motivates true, God-pleasing obedience. Thus, we seek to live out our new identity as members of God’s family, to reflect the family traits of righteousness and holiness. We seek to be fully holy in all our actions not to earn our adoption as sons and daughters of the Lord but because we have already been adopted as His children (2 Cor. 7:1).