Sanctification: Different From Justification
When it comes to justification and sanctification, you cannot have one without the other. It is important to understand that justification and sanctification are distinct aspects of our salvation in Jesus Christ but justification and sanctification are also inseparable aspects of our salvation. The reason justification and sanctification are inseparable is because they are benefits of the saving work of Jesus Christ. If we possess Christ, then we will possess all the aspects of his benefits. When the Holy Spirit brings Christ to us, he does not bring him in parts but the whole.
Justification and sanctification are something that we must distinguish when we talk about salvation because the Bible portrays them differently. Both justification and sanctification are concerned with righteousness. However, justification is God, as judge, declaring us to be legally reckoned “righteous.” We have a right relationship with God. God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). The sinner does not have a righteousness by which they can pass through the judgment. But God gives them a verdict of vindication. It is a righteousness declared upon us because Jesus Christ the Righteous One stands in our placed. 2 Cor. 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In the same what that Jesus is “made sin,” he bears the legal punishments on our behalf but is not himself inwardly corrupted, so too we are made to be ‘the righteousness of God.’ The judge makes a ruling: “righteous” even though inwardly we are not righteous. “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Rom. 4:7-8). Justification is a full and final verdict rendered at the moment of salvation. I am declared righteous. I have peace with God (Rom. 5:1).
Sanctification also concerns righteousness. But sanctification is the inward act where the Holy Spirit continues to work and makes us more holy in our behavior. At the moment of salvation, the Lord calls us saints and sets us apart to be holy. The Christian is “sanctified in Christ Jesus” in a positional sense (1 Cor. 1:2; see also 1 Cor. 6:11). However, there is also a continual and progressive renewal. We are being transformed. We learn to walk more and more like Christ and to obey him. We are being transformed to bear the image of Jesus more and more (2 Cor. 3:18). If I belong to Christ, I will look like him more and more over time. Sanctification is continual and ongoing.
Both justification and sanctification are inseparable. The reason they are inseparable is because I, as a believer, am inseparable from Christ because of my union with him. In Gal. 2:16-21, Paul connects justification to the believer’s dying and rising with Christ. Similarly, in Romans 4:25, legal aspects are clear as Christ’s death bears my transgression and his resurrection is the grounds of my justification. But Paul also connects sanctification with dying and rising with Christ. The classic passage for this is Romans 6:1-11. If I’ve died with Christ, then I am dead to sin. If I have risen with Christ, then I walk in a new life. The believer is united to his death; the believer is united to his resurrection. That makes such a fundamental change in who we are we will live it out.
There are a number of things we can say to apply these truths to our hearts.
You, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, belong to Christ and Christ belongs to you. He is your possession. You do not lack any good thing for both eternal life and for present godliness. You were given eternal life first as a full and complete gift. But now, as a redeemed saint in possession of all things, you are called to live it out in a present godliness.
Find security and assurance in your justification. Every Christian will stumble back in sin. Our progress in sanctification is often hard road filled with failures and pitfalls. It is easy to be tempted into thinking in those moments when we stumble that maybe we aren’t saved. We feel the weight of sin, we looked our skinned knees from where we fell, the mud that covers us, and we may doubt the goodness of God. It is in these moments that we turn to look at the cross. We see our Savior. He stands on our behalf. He has justified us. We have peace with God. Our salvation is secure. Consider Romans 8:
(32) He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (33) Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. (34) Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Find motivation to grow in holiness and obedience. God has put you into a right relationship with him through Jesus’ work. You have been baptized into Christ now you have this awesome and wonderful equipping to walk before God in fellowship. You have been given the gift of righteousness to stand before God. You have also been given the empowerment to run after in holy obedience. You must stand before you can run, but your mission is to run to Christ. You have a goal that you are pressing onward towards.
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22 ESV)
Finally, consider and rejoice in the progress you can make in the Christian life. As you grow as a Christ at least two things will happen: (1) Jesus will increase and you will decrease; and (2) you will see genuine ongoing growth and change. One of the most wonderful things in the life of the church is to hear people’s testimony. It has often surprised me to encounter older saints who I have known only a few brief years and find out that decades ago when they were first saved they had all manner of evil and sin in their life. Encountering them many years later, you see the end result of progress. May that encourage you to not give up the fight of the faith. Equally, when you hear these testimonies, these saints know deeply that they are still sinners. In lowly humility, they think less of themselves; they know where sins still reside in the dark recesses of their life. They know that they only have anything good because of God’s grace given in Jesus. The strongest saints are the weakest ones who have made much of Jesus. He alone does the work.
The saint is justified the moment they trust in Christ; God works immediately and fully. The saint progresses in sanctification through a lifetime of walking as the Lord continues to work. But all of it from start to finish is a work of God grounded in Christ and carried out through the Holy Spirit.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.