Justification and Sanctification

I. What is Justification?
Justification is the judicial act of God (Hebrews 4:16) done in grace (Ephesians 2:8) by which He grants full pardon of all guilt and total release from the penalty of sins, and His acceptance as righteous of all those who receive Jesus Christ by faith (Romans 3:21-26; Romans 4:5,8; Romans 5:1,2). The condition for justification is by faith. Faith should not be thought of as the cause of justification, though. As Dr. Allan Brown states:
  • “The moving cause of our justification is God’s love.
  • The efficient cause of our justification is the Holy Spirit–who takes the things of Jesus, and shows them unto us.
  • The meritorious cause of our justification is the death of Jesus Christ.
  • The instrumental cause of our justification on God’s part, is the word of god.
  • The conditional cause of our justification, on our part, is faith”1
This faith has three components:
  • It believes what God says. (In this case about our spiritual condition and need for a Savior)
  • It does what He commands. (Which is to confess our sins and receive Jesus Christ as Lord).
  • It trusts in and rests on His promises. (By this faith we have met the condition for justification and have established a right relationship with God).
Thomas Ralston explains this judicial act of God this way:

 “..if justification ever be obtained by any, it must be on the ground of pardon.”2

We are not justified by the force of testimony on our behalf, nor are we justified by evidence that somehow acquits us from the just penalty of God's Law, so there is no question of our worthiness or innocence. Scripture is very clear that we are all sinners and stand guilty before a holy God. (Genesis 8:21; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 5:12-21) Clement of Rome puts it this way:

“And we, too, being called by His will in Jesus Christ, are not justified by ourselves. Nor are we justified by our own wisdom, understanding, godliness, or works that we have done in holiness of heart. Rather, we are justified by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men.”

Thus we are only justified by God's gracious act of pardon. It is a gift for all who meet the condition to receive it, and not reserved for any special class of men. (Romans 3:22-23) It is a gift given freely and without any merit or cause.

“He confers his free gifts on those who should receive them.”- Irenaeus

It gives us peace and access to God (Romans 5:1,2), and is proof of God's love for us (Romans 5:6-8).

II. What is Sanctification?
Justification should not be confused with sanctification. Sanctification is defined by Dr. Allan Brown as:

“..that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution and power of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works.”

There is in justification an immediate act of sanctification through our personal union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. (Romans 6:1-10) John Wesley understood the fact that justification and sanctification are different and yet connected when he wrote:

“What is justification?...And it is evident from what has already been observed that it is not the being made actually just and righteous. This is sanctification, which is indeed in some degree the immediate fruit of justification.”3

We have died to sin and thus cannot continue sinning. (Romans 6:2) The immediate, or initial act of sanctification is where God declares us to be sanctified wholly, or in other words declared holy, and then empowers us to actually be holy. This “empowerment” is a freedom from the power of sin. (Romans 6:9,10). This, of course, requires of us obedience to His Truth.

“Let us therefore earnestly strive to be found in the number of those that wait for Him, in order that we may share in His promised gifts. But how, beloved, will this be done? It will be done only by the following things: If our understanding is fixed by faith towards God. If we earnestly seek the things that are pleasing and acceptable to Him. If we do the things that are in harmony with his blameless will. And if we follow the way of truth, casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity.”- Clement of Rome

“To believe in Him is to do His will.”- Irenaeus

“He that is freed owes obedience to his deliverer.”- Cyprian

Romans 6:11 states:

“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This word reckon means “to take account of what actually is.” The importance of this cannot be overstated, as according to God's Word we are really, substantively dead to sin. It is not theory or simply poetic language, but a statement of fact. The differences between justification and sanctification are simple. In justification we are declared righteous, while in sanctification we are made righteous.

1. Brown, Allan, What It Cost God To Save Us, pp.2
2. Ralston, Thomas, Elements of Divinity, pp. 400, Wesleyan Heritage Publications, 2002
3. The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, pp. 187