As I listen to people, and as I read various articles, I realize there is much confusion in our nation today over what salvation is composed of. Included in salvation are two important terms (there are more), they are “justification” and “sanctification.” Both of these are important, but contrary to what some people think or teach, they are significantly different.
Although this may seem a little more technical than I usually get, this is extremely important to understand, because ignorance of what the Bible means by these terms may lead you down a road that you do not want to go, and in the end you may miss out on the blessings God desires to give you.
As most of you probably know, we are all sinners. Every single one of us has sinned and fallen short of what God requires of us if we desire to dwell with Him throughout eternity. To satisfy the unwavering justice of God, God the Son — Jesus — was born as one of us, then suffered the punishment for sin on the cross on our behalf, and then rose from the dead three days later, victorious over sin and death. He could do that because He was without sin, and therefore death could not hold him.
When you come to believe that Jesus truly is the Savior of the world — the ONLY Savior of the world — and you choose to repent of your sin and put your faith in Christ Alone to forgive you, and give you the gift of Eternal Life, at that point you become “born again.” You are saved — you become at that moment a child of God.
Why is that the case? What happened to allow you, guilty of sin, to be forgiven? That is what the Bible calls justified, or justification. Because Jesus paid your debt for sin God can legally and morally declare you to be no longer guilty of sin. Justification is a one-time thing; it cannot be repeated, and there is nothing you need to do beyond repent and believe in Jesus by faith in order to be declared “not guilty” — justified.
Some people are under the impression you need to do your own works of righteousness in order to become fully justified, but Romans 3:23-24 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” The Bible is clear: justification is a “gift,” and as Romans 4 makes clear, a gift cannot be earned, it can only be received; in this case it is received when you put your faith in Jesus.
That leads us to our second term — sanctification — which many people confuse with the term justification. Sanctification has two aspects to it, both have to do with “being cleansed,” but one occurs when you are first saved, and the other aspect occurs as you “mature” or “grow” in Christ.
Sanctification is somewhat parallel to being a human. When you are born you are fully human, but you are not a “mature” human. As you age and grow you “mature.” You do not become “more human,” you simply become “more mature.”
Sanctification is like that. When you are “born again” you are cleansed of sin, and become a fully forgiven child of God who has received the gift of eternal life, otherwise known as exalted life; but the more you learn about God and His ways through studying and obeying the Bible, the Word of God, applying these things to your life, the more you “mature” in Christ. You don’t become “more saved” or “more justified,” you just mature in your Christian walk, just as a baby matures to an adult.
You cannot earn exalted life, it is a gift. Romans 6:23 KJV states: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Nor can you earn justification, it also is a gift from God when you put your faith in Jesus — the ONLY Savior of the world.
In Galatians 3:11 God makes it very clear no one can be justified by obeying laws or rules because the “righteous person” must live by faith. In fact, God makes it even more clear in Philippians 2:21 and 3:21 that there is no rule or law in existence whereby you can earn the righteousness you need to dwell with God; for it says that if there were then JESUS DIED FOR NOTHING. But Jesus didn’t die for nothing; He died and rose again for our sin and our justification because there was and is no other way for someone to receive the gift of eternal life. In fact God joins these two things together, forgiveness and justification, in Romans 4:25 KJV: “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” In other words, Jesus was crucified for our sins, and rose from the dead for our justification.
Praise God, Jesus has done it all; He has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. Repent of your sin, and put your faith in Jesus alone, and He will forgive you, and justify you — He will declare you to be no longer guilty of sin, and give you the gift of exalted life. At that moment you will become a child of God for all eternity.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.