In our study on Sunday, we looked at a number of passages in the New Testament that indicate that sanctification is necessary in order to be glorified on the last day. There were two important texts that we didn’t have time to look at and I’d like to share them with you in this post.
Before I do, keep in mind that texts like these do NOT contradict the many biblical passages teaching that justification is by faith alone apart from works. At first, they may appear contradictory, but they are not. That justification is by faith alone and that sanctification is a prerequisite for glorification are not contradictory truths. Rather, they are complimentary truths. There really isn’t even any tension between them when we properly understand their relationship.
The first passage is James 2:14-26, which we will most likely use this Sunday to help us reconcile what seem to be contradictory things.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-- and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"-- and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (Jam 2:14-26)
This particular passage may be even more troubling than the ones we looked at on Sunday in that it indicates not merely that glorification depends upon sanctification, but that justification does. Again, there is nothing to be worried about – James is not contradicting Paul. But if you’d like a head start on making sense of these things, you can find another article in which I explain this passage here. For now, just keep in mind that according to James sanctification is not an optional part of the Christian life.
The second passage is actually a host of passages found in Revelation. Repeatedly, Revelation states that “the one who conquers” will inherit the various blessings of the kingdom. For example, Rev 2:7: 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. The tree of life is a central feature of the landscape of the new heaven and earth in Revelation 22. Essentially, this verse teaches that those who conquer will be glorified. There are similar statements in 2:11, 17, 26-27; 3:5, 12, 21; and, 12:11.
But we might wonder, what does the text mean by “the one who conquers”? 21:7-8 can help us with this:
7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."
Verse 8 gives the opposite of conquering by providing a list of vices – faithlessness, murder, sexual immorality, etc. By juxtaposing those who conquer with the faithless and murderers, the text is telling us that when John uses the word “conquer,” he means persevering in obedience.
One last passage – Rev 20:11ff: 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Note that twice in two verses we’re told that judgment is according to what each has done. The testimony of Revelation is that sanctification is necessary in order to enjoy glorification.
Fear not. We’ll work through these things on Sunday. Just remember that if we’re going to think biblically so that we may live biblically, we must be willing to deal with such issues in the Scriptures. May the Lord bless us as we persevere!