Justification and Sanctification

Two fancy sounding words that get thrown around a lot in theological discussions are “justification” and “sanctification.” Both of these words appear in scripture and they work together to paint a beautiful picture of the Christian life.

“Justification” is a legal term that conveys the idea of being judged to be righteous. To be justified before God means that we are acquitted of the crimes of which we are accused. Our relationship with Him is restored and we do not have to bear the punishment that fits our crime. In fact, as far as the imputing of guilt is concerned, it is like we never committed the crime at all! A good part of the Bible to read in order to learn more about justification would be Romans, chapters 3 through 5.

“Sanctification” means being made holy. While justification takes full effect the moment we put on Christ in baptism, sanctification is a process that we grow in day by day. It is the process of being conformed to the image of God’s Son, and this process is taking place in us as long as we live on this earth. Our sanctification’s completion will only become evident when Jesus returns at the last day. A good place to read about sanctification would be Romans, chapters 6 through 8.

Both of these elements are present in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Notice that when we walk in the light, God does two things for us: He forgives our sings (justification) and He cleanses us from all unrighteousness (sanctification).   The word here translated as “cleanse” is where we get the English word “catharsis,” and it indicates a purging or removal of that which does not belong.

John makes sanctification sound pretty easy. All we have to do is walk in the light and God will sanctify us completely! But John does acknowledge that we will not always be perfect as we go through this process. In the following verses he states: “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

John talks about justification, then sanctification, and then he goes right back to justification again, reminding us that while our path in life is one of pursuing purity, it is only because of the forgiveness that we have received – and that we continue to receive with each passing day – that this process is even possible.

Understanding these two concepts and how they relate to each other allows us to see the gospel for the simple and beautiful truth that it is.

Many in our world are so eager to emphasize the free gift of justification that they are uncomfortable with emphasizing the truth that God’s children cannot live in sin. They miss out on the fact that salvation does not just mean forgiveness, it also means transformation.

Others fail to grasp the fact that our justification truly is a free gift that covers our sins, and as a result they try to earn their own salvation apart from God’s grace through a system of guilt- and shame-based sanctification projects.

What do you think about these two concepts? Do you see how they both fit together into one cohesive and fantastic gospel? If you want to see these concepts play out in scripture or learn more about what they truly mean, then be like the Bereans who were “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

Are Christians Better than Other People?

One common complaint raised against Christians is that “you think you are better than everyone else.” The typical response, often offered preemptively before this objection is even raised, is that “I do not think I am better than anyone else just because I am a Christian. I am just as bad as you are. The only difference is that God looks on Christ’s righteousness instead of my sins.”

So is it true? Do Christians really think they are better than other people? And should they? Are they actually better than other people?

That depends on what you mean by “better.”

Does a Christian have more intrinsic worth in God’s eyes than a non-Christian does? The Biblical answer is “no.” We derive an objective value from being a soul created in God’s image, whether Christian or not (Genesis 1:26, Genesis 9:6, Acts 17:28).

Does God love a Christian more than a non-Christian? If love means wanting what is best for a person, and acting in their best interest, then once again, the Biblical answer is a resounding “no.” Contrary to the conclusions of some Calvinist theologians, God is “patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”  He illustrates this love by the story of a father who runs out to welcome home his rebellious son (Luke 15:11-31). After all, Jesus died for sinners (Romans 5:8), not people who were already holier-than-thou. (Mark 2:17)

Does a Christian deserve God’s grace more than a non-Christian does? If the key word is deserve, then the answer is “no,” yet again. A Christian is not someone who has earned their salvation. It is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8, Romans 6:23). This fact led Paul to conclude, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all” (Romans 3:9). When it comes to deserving our salvation, we are not better than anyone else.

But there is a real sense in which Christians are better than other people. Or at least, we sure ought to be.

A chief aspect of God’s work in the life of a Christian is to conform him to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). There is no reasonable way to understand the concept of “being conformed to the image of Christ,” through a process of “transformation by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:1) that does not include becoming a better person.

Ephesians 4:22-24 states it plainly: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

If you have not become a better person since becoming a Christian, something is seriously wrong.

In conclusion: Do Christians have more intrinsic worth than others? No. Does God love Christians more than others? When love is understood as an unconditional, active desire for the wellbeing of another, clearly not.   Do Christian’s deserve to be saved more than others? No.

But do Christians behave better than others? The answer had better be “yes.” We ought to be a people unusually full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. We ought to be a people unusually forgiving, unusually meek, unusually pure and upright and gracious and harmonious. Shame on us when we are not.

May we be growing in holiness in a way unlike anything that we experienced before our conversion. May we look more like our God every day. In that sense, may we be better than we were prior to our conversion.