Justification and Sanctification: Part 1
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10 NKJ
Question 77 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?” It gives the answer, “Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ, in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.” Last week we saw how God, in giving the grace of repentance, enables sinners to see the Lord Jesus Christ as He really is. This week we begin to examine the differences between justification and sanctification.
Question 55 of the children’s catechism (First Catechism) asks, “What does God the Father guarantee in the covenant of grace?” Answer: “To justify and sanctify all those for whom Christ died.” Here the children’s catechism rightly summarizes the whole Christian life under the terms justification and sanctification. Perhaps no two concepts are more important for you to understand in all the Bible than these. Yet right next to understanding the meaning of justification and sanctification, it is crucial that you know the difference between them. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the Protestant Reformation came about as a result of the medieval church confusing these concepts. Since in previous articles we have already defined justification and sanctification, let us look at what this question says makes them differ.
First, we notice that justification and sanctification are “inseparably joined.” This truth is vital to grasp if we are to avoid slipping into an antinomian gospel. Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith which is alone. The Bible plainly states that “faith without works is dead,” (Jam. 2:20). The faith which justifies is always and only a living faith. That means that it will immediately evidence itself in its good works. Again, James says that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” (2:17). No one ever has or ever will be justified by a mere profession of faith. Thus, justification, which is by faith alone and immediately given and completed the moment the sinner believes, is always inseparably joined with sanctification, which is the lifelong process of the sinner becoming like Christ in loving and obeying God’s law. The moment you believed you began to put off the old sin-loving man and put on the new obedience-loving man. You did this because the gift of faith by which you were justified was a living faith, which by definition must express itself in doing good works.
Second, we see that God, the author and giver of justification and sanctification, acts differently in both. In justification, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the sinner. The word “impute” means to account or to credit to. God justified you the moment you believed in Christ. That means He accepted you in His holy presence, once and for all time, as “not guilty but righteous.” God’s declaration of you, a sinner, as righteous, was not a heavenly slight of hand or winking at your true state. God knows full well that in and of yourself you are a sinner. Yet God the Father, in keeping with His covenant with God the Son, imputed the righteousness that Jesus earned in His perfect life of obedience to God’s law, to you. That is, God counted or credited Christ’s righteousness to you as if it were yours. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness is the basis upon which God justified you. The God-given gift of faith is the instrument through which you received that imputation, and thus, that justification. In sanctification God does not count or impute Christ’s righteousness to you, He works within you to make you personally righteous. The Catechism describes this with the word “infuse.” To infuse is to pour in, insert into, or to fill up. In sanctification God infuses grace into your soul and you are personally changed. Justification changes your status in the sight of God. Sanctification changes your character. Praise God that we have been saved not just from the penalty of sin, but from its power! In saving us, not only does God count us as righteous in His sight for Christ’s sake, but He gives us Christ’s Spirit, so that by His power we experience His victory over sin within our very souls; and that experience begins the moment you believe!