As a new Christian, understanding the difference between “justification” and “sanctification” can be confusing as we initially encounter these words within God’s Word.
Understanding the difference between the two is of crucial importance.
JUSTIFICATION: When I think of being justified in God’s sight the key thought that comes to my mind is that the righteousness of Jesus is credited or imputed to me through my faith in Christ.
Christ’s righteousness refers to His perfect state of being. His perfection is necessary because sin separates people from God. Imputed is a form of the word imputation that means to designate an action as reckoned or given to a person. In other words, the righteousness of Jesus is given to us when we believe in order to make us right before God.
Why is this important? Romans 3:23 notes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No one is good enough to stand before God based on his or her own righteous actions. In fact, sin separates us from God. Romans 6:23 teaches, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If we all sin, which we do, we cannot be right before God on our own, and the consequence of our sin is death and eternal separation from God in hell, our only hope is an outside source that will make us right. This is why the righteousness of Jesus is needed. When we believe in Jesus, we confess our sins and receive His forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Romans 4 is sometimes referred to as the imputation chapter as it speaks about this issue in detail. In referring to Abraham’s faith, Paul notes, “That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:22-25). The righteousness of Christ is given to us who believe to change our lives and make us right before God.
2nd Corinthians 5:21 puts it this way, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus paid for our sins through His death on the cross so we could become the righteousness of God. This righteousness comes from Jesus, offering us a way to have access to a perfect God for all eternity.
In Galatians 2:20, the apostle Paul proclaimed the importance of this righteousness in our lives today: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Jesus gave Himself for us; in response, we are called to live our lives for Him. He changes our lives through His grace and offers us a life that is new and forgiven.
Justification is the work of God where the righteousness of Jesus is reckoned to the sinner, so the sinner is declared by God as being righteous under the Law (Rom. 4:3; 5:1,9; Gal. 2:16; 3:11). This righteousness is not earned or retained by any effort of the saved. Justification is an instantaneous occurrence with the result being eternal life. It is based completely and solely upon Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and is received by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). No works are necessary whatsoever to obtain justification. Otherwise, it is not a gift (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1).
SANCTIFICATION is the process of being set apart for God’s work and being conformed to the image of Christ. The key Bible verse that comes to my mind when I think of sanctification comes from Hebrews 10:14 NIV which reads: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” “Being made holy”, that’s the process part that we participate in.
Sanctification is the process of being set apart for God’s work and being conformed to the image of Christ. This conforming to Christ involves the work of the person, but it is still God working in the believer to produce more of a godly character and life in the person who has already been justified (Phil. 2:13). Sanctification is not instantaneous because it is not the work of God alone. The justified person is actively involved in submitting to God’s will, resisting sin, seeking holiness, and working to be more godly (Gal. 5:22-23). Significantly, sanctification has no bearing on justification. That is, even if we don’t live a perfect life, we are still justified.
Where justification is a legal declaration that is instantaneous, sanctification is a process. Where justification comes from outside of us, from God, sanctification comes from God within us by the work of the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Bible. In other words, we contribute to sanctification through our efforts. In contrast, we do not contribute to our justification through our efforts.
Now, there is one more point of clarification. To sanctify also means to set apart for holy use. Therefore, we can have verses that talk about us being sanctified already because God has set us apart for holy use.
- Rom. 15:16, “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
- 1 Cor. 1:2, “to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
- 1 Cor. 6:11, “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”
- 1 Tim. 4:4-5, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”
- Heb. 2:11, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
All that we need is given to us in Christ. So there is one sense in which we are not yet completely formed into the image of Christ (sanctification of being made like Jesus), yet in another sense, we are because we are seen as “in Christ” and set apart for holy use where all our spiritual needs and purposes are met through Jesus.
Does this mean those justified by grace can sin as much as they want?
- Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer in it?”
- 1 Thess. 4:7 says, “God has called us not for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.”
The Scriptures teach us that we are to live holy lives and avoid sin (Col. 1:5-11). Just because we are saved and eternally justified before God (John 10:28), that is no excuse to continue in the sin from which we were saved. Of course, we all sin (Rom. 3:23); but the war between the saved and sin is continuous (Rom. 7:14-20), and it won’t be until the return of Jesus that we will be delivered from this body of death (Rom. 7:24). To seek sin continually and use God’s grace to excuse it later is to trample the blood of Christ underfoot (Heb. 10:29) and to reveal the person’s true sinful, unsaved nature (1 John 2:4; 2:19). Other verses worth checking out are: Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:14-16; and 1 Pet. 2:21-22.
Source: personal insights and “extracts from” carm.org
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!