“AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:18–19, NASB95)
Salvation is a complicated word. It is not because it is difficult to understand, but because it encompasses so much. Sometimes when we read, hear or speak of salvation it may not be clear as to whether we are speaking of it as a whole or to one aspect of it to the exclusion of another (justification, sanctification, and glorification). The first part of salvation is what we might refer to as “justification.” It is that moment when we “believe and receive.” It is the time when you asked Jesus to save you, knowing according to His promise that He indeed did so. This does not mean that we understood everything, but we understood enough to know our great need and to entrust ourselves to Him for His great forgiveness and ability to give us life. Justification is a legal term. It is at the moment we are saved that we are declared righteous because Jesus personally imputed (or credited) His righteousness to us. This meant that all of our sins, including those not yet committed, were fully and forever forgiven. This is much easier to understand when we grasp the truth that God knows every single one of our days and our every thought, word, and deed before we were ever born, and He chose to call us to Himself knowing these most intimate details. Salvation is a total gift from Him. There is nothing we could do to warrant it and nothing we could ever do to justify it. We are justified because of the perfect righteousness of Christ, and because of His righteousness put on us we are forever saved and unable to fall under judgment in this way.
Consider these words of Paul in Romans, “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:15–19, NASB95)
Jumping from the beginning to the end, the last aspect of salvation is “glorification.” We read in Romans 8:30, “and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30, NASB95) This speaks of the time when we leave these physical bodies and all of the struggles in them behind to enter the presence of our Lord. For most it will happen through death, but even in awaiting that we live with the hope that He will soon return. Whether it is by His return or by our passing, we are assured that we will be with Him forever. We will be perfected and enter His glory. Scripture has so much to say about this as our great promise and hope, but it also leaves so much unsaid as to what we are to expect knowing that it will be far beyond anything that we can every ask or imagine. And while Scripture does say that we will not incur judgment as those who don’t believe, we will stand before our God to have our works reviewed and receive His gracious rewards according to our faithful service in His name.
That’s the beginning and the end of salvation. What we find in the middle is the here and now. It is this current aspect of salvation that the Bible speaks of as “sanctification.” Paul wrote in Romans chapter 6, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Romans 6:17–22, NASB95)
As you can see from these verses, sanctification is the process of change, or being conformed to the image of Christ. It is as we put off the way we used to the do things (the world) and put on how we are to do things (Christ) because of what we have learned from Him about how we are supposed to live. And the amazing thing is that this process is that it is not something we do in our own strength, though we might certainly try, but it is something that God enables us to do through the power of His Spirit in us and His Word given to us. God not only shines the light on our path, but He also gives us the power to walk it. It is incumbent on us to submit to Him, obey His leading, and walk according to the power of Him in us.
Sanctification is the process of growing here into who we are already made in Christ. It is the process of being shaped into our identity. A soldier might be a soldier by enlisting, but he grows as a soldier by learning, obeying, and applying. We can never be any more holy than Christ has made us, but we certainly can grow to live more and more in conformity to the holiness of the truth of who we are as we do the works that God has prepared for us to do from before the foundation of the earth.
This middle aspect is in a very real sense where the difficulty lies. Paul wrote of the great battle that waged in his members. There is this tension that we constantly face as the world and Satan press in and things from around us become enticements to turn our desires from God and the truth of His Word. God has no problem getting us from point “a” to point “b.” He is totally sovereign over the path in between. He knows the difficulty of the walk. Jesus made this eminently clear with His coming as a man to be tempted in all ways ultimately to endrue the cross and lay down His life for us. But He also made it eminently clear His victorious power when He took His life back up again through His resurrection.
Knowing all of this and the power that God supplies, can you imagine the path that someone walks who does not know God, His help or His hope? The person without God has no hope. There are none who are righteous, we read. There is not even one, except our Lord who gives us life. No one is able to save himself and his path apart from God will lead to certain death and judgment. There is no way around it. There is no other alternative. It is either life in Christ or death apart.
All of the suffering endured by those who reject Him will only be amplified in judgment. But for those of us who have tasted His goodness and know our certain salvation, there is great hope even today as we endure hardship and even persecution in His name. Peter referred to God here as the Creator. He is the One who began it all, and He is certainly to One who will bring it to pass. As the Creator He is the author and He is the determinant on how it should go. All creation belongs to Him and He is sovereign over every aspect. Man might try to change the rules to suit his own desires, but God holds the reins and He will steer all things to their ultimate end. Sadly, for many who have refused Him, this end is eternal judgment. But for those who have trusted Christ and have even endured trials in the process we will find in the end not only the perfection of our faith but the great hope of the glory to be revealed.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13–14, NASB95)
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls. If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!” (Proverbs 11:30–31, NASB95)