We’ve been looking at Hebrews 12 and the call for Christians to strive for holiness in their lives. Distinguishing between “Justification” & “Sanctification” is very important to understanding the Christian gospel. Here are the definitions given by the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
“Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”
“Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”
Both alike are a result of God’s gracious activity in our lives. But, a few distinctions are evident from these definitions: Justification is an act – once and done, while sanctification is a work – a process, continuing for the rest of our lives; justification has to do with our status before God (accepted as righteous in his sight) while sanctification has to do with our practice (living righteously); justification deals with the “alien” righteousness of Christ, credited to us as a free gift for our unmerited salvation, where sanctification deals with our own righteous living as the response to and fruit of God’s gracious salvation to us; in justification we are passive, not contributing to it but receiving it by faith, where in sanctification we are active, enabled by God’s spirit to turn from sin and grow in righteousness.
An accurate understanding of both is necessary. Forgetting the truths of justification can lead to legalism and self-righteousness, as though we save ourselves by our performance and merit God’s love. Forgetting the truths of sanctification, on the other hand, can lead to license, denying our obligation to obey Christ’s commands and turn away from sin.
Theology is a complex subject and often requires careful distinctions.Yet these doctrines often get confused. In preparing for one of the sermons on Hebrews 12 I came across this and found it helpful in clarifying the relationship between justification and sanctification.