Four Differences between Justification and Sanctification.
Justification is not sanctification. Sanctification is not justification. Although the two works pertain to the so-called ‘ordo salutis’ (the order of salvation), it is vital to distinguish carefully between them.
1.- Position or Condition?
Firstly, justification has to do with the believer’s legal standing whereas sanctification is related to one’s inner condition. Justification is the legal decree of God whereby he proclaims sinners entirely blameless and righteous before the holy demands of His Law thanks to the imputation of Jesus’ perfect righteousness to the ungodly. The sinner can no longer be condemned because his legal standing before the Lord is perfected.
Sanctification, however, has to do with what goes on within a believer. It affects his (her) intellect, will and affections. The process of sanctification alludes to the believer being transformed from glory to glory, step by step, into the image of the beloved Saviour. In much the same way as a baby is born in the real world and starts to grow, so too in the realm of the Spirit. Children of God start to mature and progress in the things of God.
Justification refers to our legal standing before God whilst sanctification is concerned with our inner condition.
2.- Complete or in Process?
Secondly, justification is a completed work. It happens once and for all. When God proclaims the criminal blameless and righteous, there is no going back. The Lord will glorify all of those He justifies because He is not a man that He should lie nor the son of man that He should repent. As the famous golden-chain of salvation explains in Romans 8:30, “Whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified”. Due to the legal declaration of the Father and the impeccable merit of Jesus Christ, the believer can enjoy the assurance of salvation.
But sanctification is never complete in this life. Christians will not be entirely sanctified until the coming of the Lord Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Until then, believers will have to roll up their sleeves and fight hard against their Adamic nature as they obey the Lord who bought them.
Where justification is complete and once for all, sanctification is a bit-by-bit process.
3.- God’s Work? Our work? Both?
Thirdly, justification is one hundred per cent the work of God the Father. It is God alone who declares the righteousness of the sinner on the basis of Christ’s merit. In this sense, the whole affair is beyond the hands of mere mortal humankind.
Nevertheless, in the case of sanctification there is a real sense in which the child of God cooperates with the Lord. Now it is true that God the Father is the author of our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 12:5-11; Philippians 2:13; Hebrews 13:20-21), that God the Son sanctifies us by means of His expiatory work and His example of sacrificial love (Hebrews 12:2) and that the Holy Spirit sanctifies us (1 Peter 1:2; Galatians 5:22-23)); but it is likewise true that the saint is called to walk with the triune God in the process of sanctification.
That explains the amount of ethical commands given to believers in the New Testament. Given that the Spirit of holiness has taken up residence within them, they can now live in accordance with the divine will (Romans 6:13; 12;1; Philippians 2:12; 1 John 3:3).
Justification, then, is wholly God’s work and sanctification is the work of both God and the believer.
4.- The Same Measure or Not?
Fourthly, all Christians are justified in exactly the same measure. What I mean by that is that there is no such thing a believer who is “more justified” than another. A saint who has been in the Gospel for 25 years is just as justified as one who was saved 25 days ago.
However, sanctification does know different measures. It is perfectly possible for one disciple to be “more sanctified” than another. Evidently one would expect to find a 25-year old Christian in a more sanctified condition than a 25-day old believer. Sanctification has to do with growth and maturity. Having said that, it is right to say that some grow faster than others; but the idea is that we should all be aiming at becoming a reflection of Christ.
Imagine you have a small and bitter apple in your left hand and a ripe, juicy and succulent one in your right hand. Which one is the true apple? Well, if the truth be told, they are both true apples. The difference is that the fatter one has had more time to mature and grow.
Therefore justification has no measures whilst sanctification most certainly does. One is either justified or not. But sanctification does allow for different measures of growth.
The pastoral application for us all today is that Christians must always base their standing before the Lord on the grounds of their justification and never on their sanctification. If a saint grounds his (her) assurance of salvation on his good works or spiritual performance, he (she) will hit rock-bottom when he (she) falls into sin. So the servant of the Lord must always remember that his (her) salvation depends upon the legal decree of God. That way, he (she) can rejoice in the assurance of eternal life, obeying the Lord joyfully until that great Day of Jesus Christ.
Thank you, Lord, for justifying us in Christ!
Thank you Lord, for sanctifying us in the Spirit!