Justification and Sanctification

What does the Bible teach about justification and sanctification? What do these words mean and why is it important that believers know this? Salvation has three facets — justification, sanctification and glorification — but we focus only on the first two facets today.

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The meaning of justification

Justification is a legal term. It relates to a forensic declaration similar to a court’s announcement: either the accused stands condemned or is declared righteous. The heavenly court announces a human being condemned or righteous. Justification is the act of God by which He declares the sinner righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Justification means neither to be righteous nor to make righteous, but rather it means to declare righteous. It is a judicial act and a declarative statement. But it is also a constitutive act, because of the imputation of the obedience and righteousness of Jesus Christ to the believer so that the believer can be declared righteous (cf. Romans 4:25; 5:18). The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us the moment we trust Christ for salvation.

The means of justification

A true and impartial judge must condemn the wicked and justify the righteous. But how can God declare the ungodly righteous (cf. Romans 3:26)? It is possible because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer and so justification is on a just basis. The means of justification is faith (Romans 3:21-22). Faith is not the grounds of justification, but justification is always ‘through’ faith or ‘by’ faith (Acts 13:38-40; Romans 3:26-30; 5:1; 10:10). God’s law is justified because the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to the believer so that the sinner is acquitted.

The foundation of justification

The foundation of justification is threefold. First, it is it founded upon God’s grace as manifested in the perfect life of Jesus Christ in His obedience and sacrificial death (Genesis 15:6; Romans 3:24-26; 5:18-21; Titus 3:5-7). Second, justification is by blood (Romans 5:9). Third, the righteous acts and righteousness of Jesus is imputed to the believer (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Viewed negatively, no one will ever be justified on the basis of his or her works (cf. Romans 3:28; 4:5-6; Galatians 2:16).

The facets of justification

The believer is justified by God (Romans 3:26), by faith (Romans 3:28; 4:5; 5:1), by God’s grace (Romans 3:24), by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11) and in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Another facet of justification is the works of the believer, never as a means of justification, but as evidence that the believer has been justified (James 2:21, 24-25).

The elements of justification

By justification, penalty for sin is remitted (Isaiah 53:5-8; Acts 13:38-39), the believer is restored to God’s favour (Galatians 2:16; 3:26), Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer (1 Corinthians 1:30) and all sins of the believer are forgiven (Psalm 103:12; Hebrews 10:12).

The results of justification

Seven results of justification can be noted. The believer has peace with God (Romans 5:1), now stands in the grace of God (Romans 4:6), there is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), the believer becomes an heir of God (Titus 3:7), the believer has been declared righteous, has been saved from God’s general and specific wrath and is guaranteed eventual glorification (Romans 8:30; Galatians 5:5).

The meaning of sanctification

The second facet of salvation is sanctification, which means “to be set apart”. In a spiritual sense, sanctification means “to be set apart for God”. God views believers as having been perfectly sanctified in Christ (Acts 20:32; Romans 6:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:2). That is our positional sanctification in Christ. But we don’t always walk sanctified lives. Progressive sanctification is therefore that process whereby God makes us more holy and more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Whereas justification happens at the moment one becomes a believer in Christ, progressive sanctification is a process that will continue until we either die physically or are raptured. Perfectionism in this life is not a Biblical doctrine.

The facets of sanctification

The believer is sanctified in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2, 30), this is the believer’s position. The believer is further sanctified by the Word of God (John 17:17), by blood (Hebrews 13:12), by the body of Jesus Christ on the cross by God (Hebrews 10:10), and by faith (Acts 26:18). The believer is saved by faith, justified by faith and also sanctified by faith.

The causes of sanctification

The efficient cause of our sanctification is the Triune God. Every Person of the Trinity is involved in our sanctification, namely the Father (John 17:18-19; 1 Thessalonians 5:23), the Son (Ephesians 5:25-26; Titus 2:13-14) and the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16; 1 Peter 1:2). The moving cause of our sanctification is the good will of God (1 Thessalonians 4:3) who moves the believer to (further) sanctification. The instrumental cause of sanctification is the Word of God (John 17:17).

The need for sanctification

Why do we need to be sanctified? Every sin in the believer is a contradiction of the holiness of God. Sanctification therefore conforms the believer to God’s righteousness. Further, where there is sin, there is conflict (cf. Romans 7:15-25). Sanctification aims to give the believer victory in this conflict. The purpose of sanctification is to keep the believer from living in sin, though believers will always have sin in us until we are in heaven. Believers can be free from the power of sin (Romans 6:1-14), should not be worldly (Romans 6:22; 12:1-2) and must grow spiritually. The main aim of progressive sanctification is to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).


If you would like to read more about Justification and Sanctification, we suggest you read the original article and source of this summary, Justification and Sanctification, written by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

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