Justification is the judicial act whereby God declares a believing sinner to be righteous. Sanctification flows out of this as a believing sinner is transformed in holiness. God will not declare a person righteous without also making him righteous. These are both essential elements of salvation.
Salvation includes all of God’s work from foreknowledge to glorification in eternity (Romans 8:29 – 30). We cannot pick and choose doctrines, accepting eternal life while rejecting holiness and obedience. The Scriptures always connect the justification with a transformed life and righteousness, or holiness. “For with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness” (Romans 10:10). “Follow…holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Holiness is not a prerequisite for salvation, but it is a result of salvation.
Salvation describes our positional or imputed righteousness, i.e. who we are in Christ after God declares us to be righteous. Salvation saves us from the penalty and power of sin. Sanctification, on the other hand, describes the practical, personal, daily holiness that should characterize our life on earth. It saves us from the pursuit and practice of sin.
Glorification, when we are perfect in Heaven with God, saves us from the presence and possibility of sin. True believers become holy. Many who think they are saved but live unholy lives will be shocked when they face judgment in eternity (Matthew 7:21–23). Who does Jesus say will inhabit heaven? “He who does the will of my Father (vs. 21).” This is a strong admonition, but an indispensable part of the gospel according to Jesus.
Jesus teaches that there are two wrong responses to the truth. We must understand them both so that we can avoid them and respond correctly.
First, there is saying without doing— the vanity of empty words. The “many” who are turned away in judgment are not pagans. They are religious people who cite their religious deeds as proof of their salvation. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:5 that people like this hold “to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” The Pharisees were not apostates or anti-God. They were very religious, with many empty words, trying to earn God’s favor rather than living out righteousness based on faith (Romans 10:5-10). In Luke 6:46, Jesus said “And why do your call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” Real faith is as concerned with doing the will of God as it is with affirming the truth of God. Scripture encourages self-examination. Doubts can be confronted biblically. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul wrote, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.” We should examine ourselves at least as often as we observe the Lord’s Table (I Corinthians 11:28).
Freedom from moral law is a popular teaching in today’s evangelical community. There are 613 Old Testament laws but 1300 New Testament commands! If salvation comes to those who merely claim to believe the facts of the gospel, then why does the Bible warn so often of hypocrisy, disobedience and sin? Statistics tell us there are more than one billion Christians in the world today, but checking a box on a survey is no guarantee of heaven. Even a casual reading of the New Testament shows that true believers must love the Word, be committed to the local church, and desire holiness, among other things.
Notice that preaching, prophesying, casting out demons, and doing miracles are also not proofs of true salvation or holiness. God prophesied through unregenerate Balaam (Numbers 23:5) and his donkey! Caiaphas, the vile high priest, prophesied that Christ would die for all people (John 11:51, 52). Miracles can be done through Satan. The magicians of Egypt duplicated almost every miracle done by Moses. The evil sons of Sceva cast out demons (Acts 19). Rather, God wants us to reflect His character— “Be holy, for I am holy.” (I Peter 1:16) Even true believers frequently fail, but, as a pattern of life, they confess sin and strive for holiness.
A second wrong response to the truth is hearing without obeying—the tragedy of empty hearts (7:24-28). Jesus now illustrates the danger of the coming judgment with a brief
parable to conclude the Sermon on the Mount. The parable ties together all Jesus’ teachings
regarding faith, righteousness, and the need to live according to a divine standard. What seems like a very simple story is in fact a powerful commentary on people who have a headful of knowledge but hearts that are empty of faith. It contrasts those who obey and those who do not. Some hear and act upon the truth; others hear but do not act—with tragic eternal consequences.
Jesus describes two men in these verses; both built similar houses in the same area
with one crucial key difference—the foundation. One was built on rock, one on sand. Certainly one group of people Jesus was addressing were the Pharisees. Their whole religion was built upon sand. It looked good outwardly but it was doomed for destruction because the Pharisees were more concerned about appearances before men than holiness before God. Listen to the Bible: James 1:22 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” I John 2:3 “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Titus 1:15-16 “Those who are defiled and unbelieving…profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.” These passages teach that genuine believers do not receive Christ without continuing in Him. They do not profess to know Christ and deny Him in their life. Their obedience is the only real validation for salvation. The modern church uses the term ‘assurance of salvation.’ You prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, made a profession—you are on your way to heaven. But the historical Christian term is ‘perseverance of the saints’. It means that those who have been genuinely saved will continue in the faith, will grow, and will bear fruit.
So what was the result of Jesus’ sermon? A great revival? No. Thousands of converts? None mentioned. The listeners commented on His style, He preached with great authority. They were amazed, but no indication of change. We must not be like Jesus’ listeners but we must hear and respond to the truth. Humble worship should always be the response to Biblical revelation. Holiness follows salvation. As we grow in sanctification we will become more like our holy God