1. I ask, is the first place, whether it is wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do now-a-days in handling the doctrine of sanctification? Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified a way as many do - that holiness of converted people is by faith only - and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God's Word? I doubt it.
That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness;
that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ;
that until we believe - we have not a jot of holiness;
that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy;
that the life that we live in the flesh, we must live by faith in Jesus;
that faith purifies the heart;
that faith is the victory that overcomes the world;
that by faith the ancients obtained a good report -
all these are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying.
But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness, the true Christian needs "personal exertion" and "work" - as well as faith. The very same Apostle who says in one place, "The life that I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God," says in another place, "I fight - I run - I keep under my body control." And in other places, "Let us "cleanse" ourselves - let us "labor", let us "lay aside" every weight." (Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 9:26; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 4:11; Hebrews 12:1).
Moreover, the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith "sanctifies" us in the same sense, and in the same manner, that faith "justifies" us! Justifying faith is a grace that "works not," but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ. (Romans 4:5). Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action - it "works by love," and, like a main-spring, moves the whole inward man. (Galatians 5:6). After all, the precise phrase "sanctified by faith" is found only once in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus said to Saul, "I send you, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith that is in Me." Yet even there I agree with Alford that "by faith" belongs to the whole sentence, and must not be tied to the word "sanctified". The true sense is, "that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among those who are sanctified". (Compare Acts 26:18 with Acts 20:32).
As to the phrase "holiness of faith," I find it nowhere in the New Testament. Without controversy, in the matter of our justification before God - faith in Christ is the one thing needful. All who simply believe are justified. Righteousness is imputed "to him who works, not, but believes." (Romans 4;5). It is thoroughly Scriptural and right to say, "faith alone justifies." But it is not equally Scriptural and right to say "faith alone sanctifies." The saying requires very large qualification. Let one fact suffice.
We are frequently told that a man is "justified by faith, without the works of the law," by Paul. But not once are we told that we are "justified by faith, without the deeds of the law." On the contrary, we are expressly told by James, that the faith whereby we are visibly and demonstratively justified before ,an, is a faith which "if it has not works is dead, being alone." (James 2:17). I may be told, in reply, that no one of course means to disparge "works" as an essential part of a holy life. It would be well, however, to make this more plain than many seem to make it in these days.
"There is a double justification by God: the one authoritive, the other declarative or demonstrative." The first is Paul's scope, when he speaks of justification by faith without the deeds of the law. The second is James' scope, when he speaks of justification by works." (Thomas Goodwin on Gospel Holiness)
~J. C. Ryle~