What’s the relationship between justification and sanctification in Scripture? I think we need to go back a few steps. Before we can state what’s the answer to the problem, we need to state the problem.
Even if man were not a sinner, I don’t think a sinless man could ever merit God’s approval. How could he? Even if he were a good person who did good works, he wouldn’t be responsible for his own virtue. Rather, that would be because God created him with a virtuous character.
But, of course, the present situation is a good deal grimmer. Man is fallen. Man is evil.
Yet the natural and proper reaction of a holy being is to hate evil and punish evil. So how can sinners ever be acceptable to God?
Now, even sinners can do good deeds, in a qualified sense. But it’s still someone evil who’s doing the good deed. And he does so with mixed motives.
Moreover, we all know the saying that every man has his price. It takes very little to make him do the wrong thing. A suitable temptation. The absence of outward restraint.
Left to our own resources, the situation would be hopeless. As a result, justification is contingent on penal substitution.
However, the fact that a man is justified apart from actual virtue doesn’t mean that God is unconcerned with actual virtue. It’s not as if God is indifferent to whether someone is actually good or actually evil. He’s not going to populate heaven with merely justified versions of Josef Mengele.
Strictly speaking, good works are not the inevitable fruit of justification. Justification is not the cause of good works.
Rather, the God who justifies the elect is the same God who regenerates and sanctifies the elect.
Good works are directly related to regeneration rather than justification. What’s at issue is not so much good works, but the anterior condition which results in good works, or the absence thereof.
God isn’t going to justify someone, but leave him in an unregenerate state.
Both justification and sanctification are related to regeneration, but in different ways. Regeneration is a necessary precondition of sanctification. You can’t have the fruit of a good heart without the root of a good heart.
But regeneration is also necessary to justification inasmuch as saving faith is the result of regeneration, and justification is contingent on faith. The unregenerate cannot exercise saving faith.
Causally speaking, regeneration is directly related to sanctification, and indirectly related to justification.
Put another way, when we talk about the necessity of good works, this has reference to the necessity of regeneration and sanctification. Justification doesn’t render that nugatory. Justification involves an objective condition whereas sanctification involves a subjective condition.
Sometimes, hovering in the background of this discussion, is the current controversy over the covenant of works. Was the implicit covenant with Adam a covenant of works, and does this imply meritorious works?
I affirm the former, but deny the latter.
ii) If God promises x for doing y, it doesn’t follow that z merits x. Rather, it only means that God keeps his promises. God is true to his word.
iii) I can pay one worker $50 an hour and another worker $100 an hour for doing the very same work. Did both workers earn their wages? In a sense.
Did the worker who got twice as much for doing the same job deserve twice as much for doing the same job? No.
Merit often involves the idea of desert. But you can earn something without deserving something. The reward might be out of all proportion to your labor.
Are the two workers equally deserving of what they got? No, since one got twice as much for the same job. But, in that event, strict merit does not apply. There is, in this example, no one-to-one correspondence between the effort and the reward.
Approaching this from another angle, there are disanalogies as well as analogies between the work of Adam and the work of Christ. In the case of Jesus, I’d say that it’s both a covenant of works and a covenant of meritorious works.
A divine Incarnation, for redemptive purposes, is intrinsically meritorious or supererogatory since God doesn’t owe anything to sinners. God has no duty to save sinners (although God can assume such an obligation, and the assumption of such an obligation is meritorious or supererogatory.) And, of course, God has nothing to gain—unlike Adam.
The work of Christ can be meritorious in a way that the work of Adam cannot.
It’s possible for human beings to perform supererogatory deeds in relation to each other, but not in relation to God.