The first and third aspects of our salvation (i.e., justification and glorification) are accomplished by God without any human assistance whatsoever. Concerning our justification, Scripture reveals that “God is the one who justifies” (Rom 8:33), and “who justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5). This is a work of God alone. No works are required for the one who trusts in Christ as Savior (Rom 4:4-5; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). Concerning our future glorification, Jesus Christ is the One “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Phil 3:21), and “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him” (1 John 3:2), and that “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). This means our future heavenly body will have no sin nature. This also is a work of God alone. However, the second aspect of our salvation, our sanctification, requires positive volition on our part. This is obvious by the use of NT verbs that are in the imperative mood (i.e., commands), which require the Christian to obey. As believers, we play a role in our sanctification as we learn and live God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), yield to God the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18; Gal 5:16, 25), walk by faith (2 Cor 5:7; Heb 10:38; 11:6), and advance to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1). After being justified (and awaiting glorification), it is possible for the Christian to go negative to God, not learn or live His Word, and remain a carnal Christian (1 Cor 3:1-3). These Christians will be subject to divine discipline (Heb 12:5-11), even to the point of physical death if their sinful lifestyle becomes egregious (1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16-17), and they will forfeit future rewards (1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 John 1:8). Paul, speaking to believers who will be present in heaven at the bema seat of Christ, said, “If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). The work Paul refers to here is the lifetime production of the Christian who fails to live spiritually and advance to maturity. His work is the production of the flesh and not the Spirit, and such work will be “burned up” at the bema seat evaluation, and “he will suffer loss” of reward in eternity. Yet, this same Christian “will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15c). This is a worst case scenario for the Christian and one which fails to glorify God and bless others. The best case scenario is seen in the believer who lays hold of his spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph 1:3), daily learns and lives God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15; Jam 1:22), and advances to spiritual maturity (Heb 6:1).
Dr. Steven R. Cook