Are We Too Obsessed With Our Sanctification?

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith.”

This phrase sums up Romans 1-4. We are justified by faith alone apart from works of the law.

If justification were by works, then no one would be justified. For no one has done good works that meet God’s standard. All are guilty of idolatry, all are unrighteous, all suppress the truth, all are worthy of the outpouring of God’s wrath etc… If there were not a way to be justified by faith, then no one would be justified.

Justification by is by faith alone because it gives all glory to God. Faith simply receives God’s grace and therefore excludes all boasting (Romans 3:27).

Paul Turns A Corner

In chapter 5, Paul turns a corner in this great letter to the Romans. He is no longer arguing for the doctrine of justification by faith, but unpacking the glorious results of this truth.

To say that this is major turning point in Romans is contrary to many commentaries or outlines that you will come across when studying Romans. Most outlines that you will find on the book of Romans look like this:

I. Chapters 1-3: The Sinful Condition of Man

II. Chapters 3-5: The Doctrine of Justification by Faith

III. Chapters 6-8: The Doctrine of Sanctification

As you see in this outline there is no major division between chapters 4 and 5. According to this outline they are both apart of the 2nd section.

Here is what I believe is a better outline of Romans 1-8:

I. Chapters 1-4: The Doctrine of Justification by Faith

II. Chapters 5-8: The Doctrine of Glorification

Why is this a better outline?

First, we see in 5:1 the world “therefore” as a transitional marker and then a summary of Paul’s argument in chapters 1-4. Namely, “we have been justified by faith.” Paul then enters into a new topic that builds upon this conclusion.

Second, there is a very noticeable change in tone and style of writing between chapters 4 and 5 that you can observe without even looking at the Greek. Chapters 1-4 have been very polemical. He has been arguing his case and addressing his opponents in the 2nd person singular. For example, “If you call yourself a Jew…” (2:17). In chapters 5-8, the tone is more confessional and when he says we he is confessing things that are true for all Christians. For example, “we have peace with God” (5:1) In fact, from chapter 1:18 to the end of chapter 4 the word “we” only occurs 10 times and each time it is used in an argumentative way, but in chapters 5-8 Paul will say “we” or “us” 75 times and they are used to encourage Christians with gospel truths.

Third, there are many other key word links that demonstrate that chapter 5 should be grouped with chapters 6-8. For example, the word “faith” is used 33 times in chapters 1-4, but only 3 times in chapters 5-8. Again, the word “life” that refers to eternal life only occurs twice in chapters 1-4, but it occurs 24 times in chapters 5-8.

Fourth, there is a chiastic structure in Romans 5-8.

A. 5:1-11: The assurance of future glory.

B. 5:12-21: Our assurance is based on our union with Christ.

C. 61-23: Addressing the problem of sin.

C. 7:1-25: Addressing the problem of law.

B. 8:1-17: Our assurance is based on our union with Christ.

A. 8:18-39: The assurance of future glory.

Clearly a new theme has begun here in chapter 5.


What difference does it make to view the book this way?

It leads us to de-emphasize sanctification and re-emphasize the neglected doctrine of glorification.

Why in the world would anyone want to de-emphasize sanctification with so much moral decline in the world today and in the church? Don’t you think we should be preaching more about holiness? Shouldn’t we preach more about sanctification?

NO! I am convinced that our current generation has been far too obsessed with our own sanctification and it has not made us any holier.

The reason why we are obsessed with sanctification is because sin has made us a self-absorbed people. Therefore, we are naturally inclined to think more about HOW WE ARE DOING, and then we are about what GOD HAS DONE.

If this outline teaches us anything, it teaches us that the way to promote sanctification is to preach justification. The way to promote the obedience of faith is to preach justification by faith. The way to promote holiness is to preach the gospel.

When you really understand what God has done for you on the cross of Christ and it secures your hope of glory, then sanctification is the natural consequence of exulting in those truths.

And when I say “natural consequence” I do not mean to say it happens easily or automatically. Many things by nature happen through blood, sweat, and tears. We must fight and put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13), but the point is that by meditation on and exulting in the result of our justification (we will be glorified) we receive the joyful strength that we need to fight that sin.

Thinking too much about your sanctification is not good for your sanctification. The way to escape the corruption of the world caused by lust is by trusting in God’s great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4). 1 John 3:3 says that whoever has this hope in them purifies themselves. It is hope that leads to and produces holiness.

The way to become assured of the certainty of your future hope in glory is to think much about you past justification. Those he justified, he also glorified. Therefore, we can joyfully, confidentially, and freely go about killing our sin.

Sanctification is just stage 1 of glorification. In the book of Romans we see that our assurance of future glory is the overarching them of chapters 5-8 and sanctification is a smaller aspect of a greater truth than we self-absorbed moderns like to make it.

This post comes from a sermon by Mike Shea and the audio can be found here.


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Filed under Justification by Faith, Romans, Sanctification, Sermons, The Gospel

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