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Understanding Justification and Sanctification

In the word of God, there are so many teachings and doctrines that it can be difficult to distinguish one from another. Although, if we can set two concepts from the bible side by side, we can see how they complement each other and how they are different. Two doctrines from the word of God that are commonly misunderstood in this way are justification and sanctification. Both are essential for Christian living; however, we must distinguish both to know to walk the path of faith well. In today's article, I will explain what justification and sanctification are, how they are similar, and how they are different.


The doctrine of justification is explained most clearly in the book of Romans. In the book, the Apostle Paul writes to a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles. In Romans 5:1-2, Paul says, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. The word Justified is the past tense of Justify, which in the theological sense, means to be declared righteous before the Lord. So here, Paul is saying that God has declared us righteous by our faith. As Paul makes clear in Romans 3:28 and Galatians 2:16, the works of the Law have no power to save us. No matter how many good works we do or the moral standards we keep, it is not enough to cleanse us from our sins and make us righteous before God. Isaiah 64:6 even says that our righteousness is like filthy rags. Paul explains further in verses 8-11 of chapter 5 that Christ died for sinners, that by his shed blood, we have been justified and reconciled to him. We now have eternal life. Although, our Christian walk does not end here. What must we do with the salvation and the grace we have received?


After we have been justified, we are then to go through the process known as sanctification. The word sanctification derives part of its meaning from the late Latin word sanctificare, which means "to make holy." Sanctification is the process a believer undergoes to purge themselves of personal sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" Since being born again, our old selves have perished, and we now have a new desire to serve the Lord. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 6:11, Paul reminds the church in Corinth that they were purified and made righteous in Jesus' name and by the Holy Spirit despite their sinful pasts. As believers, we have changed. However, it is still possible for us to sin. Even after justification, we are free to obey God or commit sin. We sin occasionally because we are not God and still live in these fleshly bodies. In Romans chapter 6, Paul reminds believers that we should not use the grace given us by God to go on sinning. Sin, whether committed by an unbeliever or a believer, has consequences. James 1:15 states, "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." This is why we need to go through the process of sanctification. Paul discusses sanctification several times to the church in Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, Paul says, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;" Paul is indicating that we who know God should conduct as ourselves accordingly. Although, like those in the world, we cannot do anything apart from God, as Christ tells us in John 15:5. We need the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to help us in our sanctification process. Without him, we are stuck with the knowledge of God's standard without the power to keep it in our lives.


In 1 Peter 1:2, Apostle Peter states, "According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you." The Holy Spirit gives us the power to overcome sinful habits and purge our minds from wicked thoughts. He is your best friend in killing sin.


So how are justification and sanctification related, and how are they different? Both justification and sanctification are related in that we rely on God to help us in both processes, which are vital to our salvation. You see, salvation can be thought of as occurring in three stages. The first stage is justification, where we put our faith in Christ to save and redeem us from our sinful pasts. The second stage is sanctification, where we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and the word of God to cleanse ourselves from the personal sins we commit. And the third stage is glorification, which is the process where our nature will be changed to be like Christ once he returns and takes us to reign with him forever. Justification precedes sanctification. All we did to be justified was put our faith in Christ to save us. Sanctification requires us to apply the power and the newness of heart we have been given to overcome our sinful habits. You can only proceed to sanctification if you have been justified first. So, while they are similar in that God is actively cleansing us, they differ in that sanctification requires some of our efforts, and justification does not.


Justification and sanctification are two critical steps for anyone desiring to be saved. We could make a great shipwreck in our faith if we fail to understand these steps of salvation well. Bible teachers, preachers, chapter leaders, and evangelists should also know these steps to reach out to the lost and disciple young believers. May the Lord help us understand justification and sanctification clearly as he comes quickly for his church.

(written by Derrick Watson Jr.)



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