How Most Christians Misunderstand Justification

Most Christians rely of their sanctification (how well they are doing and living and performing as Christians) for their justification (who they are in Christ):

"Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives… Many… have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for their justification… drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther's platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude…

Much that we have interpreted as a defect of sanctification in church people is really an outgrowth of their loss of bearing with respect to justification. Christians who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure persons… Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce, defensive assertion of their own righteousness, and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger." ~ Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal (Downers Grove, IVP, 1979), 101.

Justification as the Fuel for Sanctification: Misunderstanding our justification can be detrimental to our growth in godliness–it can lead to minimizing our sin or the holiness of God, and thereby rendering the cross of Christ as seemingly unnecessary. Or we think that our standing before God is dependent on how well we live our lives–the quality of our devotions, the sincerity and consistency of our love for God, the frequency of our victory over sin, etc. And while all of these things are important features of our spiritual maturity (sanctification), they are not the grounds for our ability to stand "guilt-free" before God (justification). Christ bore our shame and provided to us His guilt-free life, and through our worship of Him, the Holy Spirit makes our lives increasingly reflect His character.