This is an extremely practical question. If we have true faith by grace it will incline us more to holiness. Christ says that sanctification is through faith in Himself (Acts 26:18). A pure heart and unfeigned faith belong together (1 Timothy 1:5). Faith as the root of all the graces must be active in our sanctification. Simply having faith in a passive way is not what sanctifies; it must be exercised actively in Christ and His Word.
There is a danger to be avoided, however. To some people, sanctification through faith can sound like justification by faith. Sometimes they then begin to speak about sanctification by faith alone. While this sounds plausible, it is in fact a significant error.
It is true that both are entirely by grace alone. You cannot of course have one without the other. Yet, sanctification is a work or a process of grace within us, whereas justification is an instantaneous act of grace outside of us. One can grow and develop, the other does not. In justification, sin is pardoned while in sanctification it is subdued. The Westminster Larger Catechism explores this distinction in Question 77.
The danger of emphasising faith alone in sanctification is that it suggests that we are not to work out what God works in us. But it must involve obedience as well as faith. Sanctification is walking in the way of holiness not simply a deeper appreciation of our justification. Yet faith is crucial in this obedience. Andrew Gray unfolds in a practical way how faith works by love in our sanctification.
1. Faith shows us Christ’s matchless excellence and transcendent beauty
This sight persuades the soul to say: “what have I to do any more with idols?” (see Hosea 14:8). Once we are united unto Christ by faith we break our union with our idols. Ignorance of Christ’s excellence and beauty and of love towards Him is the main reason that the poorest idols in the world remain in your hearts. A true view of the glorious Sun of Righteousness would make you add your amen to the following excellent confession of faith. “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
2. Faith shows us Christ’s spotless holiness
Faith shows us Christ’s holiness as well as His beauty. This makes a soul fall in love with the excellence of sanctification. The first steps to sin and misery were desiring to be as God, knowing good and evil. But among the first steps to life and happiness, the soul desires to be holy, as He is holy. Ignorance of the beauty of holiness is the great reason that you fail to strive much towards a blessed conformity to God and the image of Christ.
3. Faith lays hold on Jesus Christ
Faith draws strength and power from Christ to conquer lusts. It also produces a blessed conformity to Himself. When the Christian is weak, faith is the go-between our emptiness and Christ’s fullness; our weakness and His everlasting strength. Faith counsels us:
(a) not to lean to our own strength; and
(b) to have recourse to Jehovah in whom is everlasting strength.
If we made more use of Christ by faith we might see the following prophecy fulfilled. “He that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord” (Zechariah 12:8). When a Christian is least self-confident, then God proves Himself to be Almighty and All-sufficient.
4. Faith lays hold on the promises and believes them
Believing the promises gives birth to conformity to God. The benefit of believing the promises is that by them we are “made partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
5. Faith believes Scripture’s threats against sin
This has a strong and undoubted influence on attaining and growing in sanctification. Faith strengthens the Christian against committing iniquity with two texts (Romans 6:29 and Revelation 21:27). “O soul”, (says faith), “do not commit iniquity, for the wages of sin is death”. “Also, nothing that is unclean or commits iniquity will enter into the heavenly city”. Faith together with the threats and promises of Scripture would be like a threefold cord not easily broken to restrain you from sinning.
Do you want to know why our cursed hearts commit iniquity with so little fear and with so much delight? It is because we do not believe that God’s threats will be fulfilled in due time. If you believe Revelation 21:27, it is impossible that you would sin as you do; even if it would gain the world for you. If you undervalue God’s threats, the time will come when you will be constrained to cry out: “He has spoken it and has done it. He is faithful!” Not one jot or tittle in the Word of the Lord will fall to the ground. God will be faithful in fulfilling His threats just as much as His promises.
6. Faith shows us heaven
Faith takes the soul to the top of Pisgah to behold the promised land. Seeing such noble privileges prepared for the saints must make them pursue holiness. They know that it is impossible to get there without holiness. He has said that without holiness, no man shall see God (see Hebrews 12:14). If you got a view of heaven by faith, you would be constrained to walk in the path of sanctification. This is the glorious way by which you must walk through the gates of that blessed city.
You do not, however, know happiness of that place. It is only mere fancy and notion to you. This is because you do not strive to conform yourselves to the blessed image of God. Are you so deluded as to believe that you who never pursued holiness on earth will enter into heaven’s gates? There are some who say in their hearts, “I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart” (Deuteronomy 29:19). Many suppose they might be converted and sanctified all in one day. But why will you deceive yourselves? It is true that nothing is impossible with God. Yet, remember that only one thief on the cross was saved.
7. Faith believes the promises
Faith believes Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”. Faith loves such excellent sayings. It makes the Christian attain likeness and conformity with God so that he may behold His face and be like Him in heaven.
8. Faith shows us the exceeding sinfulness of sin
This cannot happen until the grace of faith is in vigorous exercise.
- Faith show us the person against whom we sin. This shows the exceeding sinfulness of sin. When the Christian beholds God and His matchless excellence he says, “What a beast I was, to offend such glorious majesty! What a fool I was, to kick against the goads or fight against such an infinite God!”
- Faith shows the Christian the great obligations of love Christ has imposed on us. Faith shows us the everlasting love of Christ. Faith is the grace that lets us see His sufferings. Faith lets us see all that He has done for us. This makes the Christian cry out: “O how foolish and unwise! Do I repay the Lord like this?” The more a Christian would pursue his duty, the less debt he would incur. There are two registers which a Christian should study: 1. The register in which all the infinite acts of love are recorded; and, 2. The register in which all our acts of offending precious Christ are written. You would be astonished and ashamed to see so much forgiven you and would not dare to sin any more. You would see infinite mercy rejoicing over judgment. You would see the spotless riches of the transcendent grace in Christ.
- Faith shows a Christian the disadvantages and solemn consequences of sin and in this way, the exceeding sinfulness of sin.