70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?
It is to have the forgiveness of sins from God through grace, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which He shed for us in His sacrifice on the cross; and also, to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die unto sin and lead holy and unblamable lives (Heidelberg Catechism)
The Christian church has struggled with a number of great issues through its history, e.g., the doctrine of the Trinity (theology proper), the doctrine of the two natures and one person of Christ (Christology), divine sovereignty and human responsibility (e.g., the problem of evil), the reliability of the Holy Scriptures. One of the more persistent problems that have faced is how to relate the biblical teaching about sanctification to the biblical teaching of justification and toward the resolution of this problem the Reformed theologians and churches made one of their most important contributions. The Reformed did not invent the solution. They inherited it from Martin Luther (1483–1546). As he developed his the basics of Protestant theology from c. 1513–21 he taught (1518 and 1519) a “twofold justification.” The first is what we recognize as the doctrine of free justification (sola gratia) on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ received through faith alone (sola fide). The second justification is what we call vindication about which we confess, in the Westminster Larger Catechism:
Q. 90. What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?
A. At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.
Justification is the divine declaration in this life that it is as if we ourselves had done all that Christ has done for us. Vindication is the public acknowledgment of that reality. These are two distinct acts. This is why Reformed Christians have not typically spoken of two stages of justification. There is one stage of justification. Believers are justified now. As a consequence of that justification they are, by God’s grace, being progressively sanctified now and they shall be “openly acknowledged and acquitted” at the judgment as righteous on the basis of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. For more on the development of this doctrine see the article “The Benefits of Christ: Double Justification in Protestant Theology Before the Westminster Assembly,” Anthony T. Selvaggio, ed., The Faith Once Delivered: Celebrating the Legacy of Reformed Systematic Theology and the Westminster Assembly (Essays in Honor of Dr. Wayne Spear). (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007), 107–34.
Instead of the language “double justification,” which had a checkered history, Calvin tended to speak of the “twofold grace” (duplex gratia) of God. Against the Council of Trent (1545–63) He wrote:
It is not to be denied, however, that the two things, Justification and Sanctification, are constantly conjoined and cohere; but from this it is erroneously inferred that they are one and the same. For example: — The light of the sun, though never unaccompanied with heat, is not to be considered heat. Where is the man so undiscerning as not to distinguish the one from the other? We acknowledge, then, that as soon as any one is justified, renewal also necessarily follows: and there is no dispute as to whether or not Christ sanctifies all whom he justifies. It were to rend the gospel, and divide Christ himself, to attempt to separate the righteousness which we obtain by faith from repentance.
Through faith alone, in Christ alone, we are justified. Progressive sanctification, however, as Calvin wrote, “necessarily follows.” Those whom Christ justifies, he also sanctifies. The two benefits are not to be separated but they are, as he noted, distinct. Rome, at Trent, made sanctification and justification one thing. Rome confessed that we justified because and to the degree we are sanctified and we are so by grace and cooperation with grace. With Luther Calvin and the Reformed rejected this doctrine as unbiblical. Christ did not die to make salvation possible for those who will cooperate sufficiently with grace. He obeyed and died to accomplish our redemption and, by his Spirit, he sovereignly, freely applies that redemption to us through faith alone. Cornel Venema has done excellent work on this topic in Calvin’s theology.
The metaphor of sun and light is analogous to that used in Belgic Confession (1561) article 24:
These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification—for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.
The sun produces light and heat. A good tree produces good fruit. These are necessary products but light does not make the sun nor does fruit make the tree. The sun makes light and the tree makes fruit.
Caspar Olevianus (1536–87) spoke of the “double benefit of Christ:” justification and sanctification. You can read more about that here.
Baptism, as we have been seeing in the section on the sacraments, testifies to both aspects of the “double grace” or “double benefit:” justification and sanctification. The first benefit is justification. It is the justified who are sanctified and not the reverse. Justification sola fide was the “material cause” of the Reformation. Therefore we should be very cautious about the suggestion that the logical order of the two is indifferent. Thousands of Protestant martyrs in France and the Netherlands beg to differ.
Baptism testifies and seals to us believers that we have been declared clean on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness and condign merit imputed to us. We have come “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb 12:24). It also testifies and seals to us believers that we are being cleansed, i.e., that we are being progressively, graciously sanctified by Christ’s Spirit, that Christ’s sprinkled blood not only justifies but it is unto (toward) actual “sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:2). As believers who have received, through faith alone, all that is promised us in the gospel and sealed to us in baptism we give ourselves daily to Christ. This is what it means to take up our cross: we recognize and turn away from our sin (repentance) and trust Christ’s promises, beg his grace, and in union and communion with him seek to put to death the old man and to be made alive in the new.
Next time: Where has Christ promised to believers that they just as certainly as we’re baptized so certainly are we washed by Christ?
Great write up. In fact, if we were to speak of “double justification” (duplex iustitia), you reminded us that for Calvin that means we are justified by faith alone, and then even our evangelical good works are accounted on the basis of Christ’s merits.
“Accordingly, we can deservedly say that by faith alone not only we ourselves but our works as well are justified.” Institutes, III.xvii.10