Inseparable Gifts – Justification & Sanctification
Justification and sanctification are some of those words that can feel extra church-y and confusing, but their meanings are deeply important because they are both graces of the Gospel. This article will dive into the differences and similarities of the two ideas and how they are uniquely related. Justification grants us the privilege to enter Heaven, while sanctification gives us the humility to enter heaven while also helping us to have the greatest joy from one day abiding there.
In the most simple terms, justification means “to be declared righteous by God”. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are declared righteous despite our past, present, and future sins. Romans 3:24 says, “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” The only way to become righteous in the sight of a perfect and holy God is through the sacrificial and saving work of Christ upon the cross. This work was complete and finished on the cross, with every believer being completely and finally freed from the condemnation and wrath of God that we deserved in our sinful state. God now looks at us and instead of seeing our sin, he sees the righteousness given to us by Christ’s blood. The work of justification gives us security in our faith knowing that God will never love us more than He did the first moment we placed our faith in Him.
This one time act gifted us the positional righteousness of Jesus and reconciles us to God. Positionally, we are declared righteous before God. However, we are still not perfectly righteous. This is where sanctification comes in (more on that soon). Another important distinction between the two ideas is that justification releases us from the penalty of sin, while sanctification releases us from the power of sin.
Sanctification is the ongoing process through which we grow in this perfect righteousness, a process which is eventually completed in glory. Through this process we are made more holy, or made to look more like Christ. You might have had the idea that once you were saved, everything in your life was magically fixed. If that was the case, you probably had the disappointing realization some time soon after that while we are forgiven of our sin and the Spirit helps us to walk in freedom from sin, we are still human and still sin. Praise the Lord that God is patient with our growth and that He justifies us without requiring our sanctification first. He doesn’t expect us to show up perfect, but to continually put our faith in Him and allow the Spirit to transform us day by day.
The process of sanctification is done through the Holy Spirit’s power and presence in our lives changing our hearts, minds, and behaviors and is possible because of Christ’s work on the cross. Are you sensing a theme here? Neither justification or sanctification are a result of our own righteousness or work. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection secures our holiness. While justification gives us security in our faith, it also gives us the desire and motivation to continue to grow in righteousness.
God delights in our sanctification. For it is the purpose of God for our lives to become more and more like Christ. Paul said it well in Galatians, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved and gave Himself for me” (2:20). When we come into a relationship with God we are made a new creation, our old way of life is gone. The life we now live is now being lived by faith in the Son. And as we live, move, make decisions, and obey we become more like Christ through the process. God delights in our sanctification and the prospect of us growing in our holiness.
It is also important to remember that sanctification is a lifelong process. There will never come a day on this side of eternity where we will reach peak spiritual maturity. There will always be ways we can grow, there will always be sin we are battling, there will always be deeper levels of faith we are being called to, and there will always be certain steps of obedience that are difficult for us. All of this is part of the process and is a part of being human. Because we are sinful beings and sin is in our very nature we will be works in progress for the rest of our days. So the question naturally arises, if I will never reach the goal of being fully sanctified, why bother? If I’m still going to stumble and make mistakes along the way what is the purpose of trying? Sanctification allows the Spirit to work in our lives to draw us closer to God and more in line with His heart and character. While sanctification brings glory to God and is a witness to those around us it is also edifying to our own spirits. The more we become like Christ the healthier we become. We will make wiser decisions, treat others with more respect and love, and have stronger discernment. The growth we experience equips us to better navigate this life. So while we may never reach the final destination in this world we will find we are better equipped, prepared, and encouraged for the journey.
Therefore it is important to have a healthy grasp of both justification and sanctification. Though they are different concepts they always accompany each other. Justification wipes our record clean, we are forgiven, set free, and made to walk in new life in Christ. It is a one time deal. Sanctification, on the other hand, is a lifelong process. We will continually be sanctified each day of our lives until our time on earth is done and we pass into eternity. The two go hand in hand and both are examples of the grace of God. His great love presents forgiveness through justification and patience as we grow through sanctification. Praise the Lord for the great love that He has for us.