What is the Difference Between Justification and Sanctification?

In short, justification means we are declared righteous, while sanctification means growing in righteousness.

Justification is a one-time event, and sanctification is a continual process. When we are justified, we are declared righteous positionally (that is, before God we are righteous). However, while we are positionally righteous, we are practically not perfectly righteous. While doubtless growing in grace, we are still, when compared to Christ, unrighteous. Sanctification then is the gradual conformity to the likeness of Christ. In other words, sanctification is the gradual process of becoming practically what we are positionally (righteous).

 

What is the difference between justification and sanctification? I am thankful that this is a frequent question that I get as a pastor; thankful because people are thinking but also because this is so important. After all, we are talking about our standing before God.

In short, justification means we are declared righteous, while sanctification means growing in righteousness.

Let me explain and contrast a bit further.

Justification refers to God’s declaration that someone is determined to be righteous in his sight. This justification is a one-time act whereby God declares a sinner like you and me to be not only not guilty but perfectly righteous before his high bar of justice. How does God does this and maintain his justice? The basis for the divine declaration is the doing and dying of Christ. God credits (or imputes) us with the righteousness (merit) of Jesus. We are justified by grace (a gift) through faith (trusting in Jesus). Some great verses are Rom. 3.24; 4.1-5; 5.1; 2 Cor. 5.21, Tit. 3.7.

Sanctification, on the other hand, is the continual process of being made more holy. It is the progressive conformity of the one who has been justified into the image of their Savior through the work of the Holy Spirit. Like justification, sanctification is a work of grace through faith. And, sanctification is possible because of the finished work of Christ on our behalf. Some great verses are Rom. 6; 8; Tit. 3.5; 1 Thess. 4.3, 5.23; Heb. 12.14; 2 Pet. 3.18; Jud. 1.20.

What’s the difference? A few helpful things to remember about the two:

  • Justification happens outside of you, you are declared righteous.
  • Sanctification happens inside of you, you are made righteous.

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