What is Justification and Sanctification?


By BibleAsk Team

The doctrines of justification and sanctification are central to Christian theology, each playing a distinct yet interconnected role in the believer’s spiritual journey. Understanding the differences between these two concepts is crucial for a comprehensive grasp of Christian salvation. Justification is a one-time act of God, where a sinner is declared righteous by faith alone, while sanctification is an ongoing process of becoming holy through God’s grace and the believer’s active submission. This essay explores these concepts in detail, supported by references from the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible.

Justification: An Instant Act of God

Definition and Nature

Justification is a judicial act of God where He declares a sinner to be righteous on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. This declaration is immediate and not dependent on the believer’s works or merits but solely on God’s grace through faith.

Romans 3:23-24: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

Paul emphasizes that all humans are sinners and that justification is a gift of God’s grace, not earned by human effort.

By Faith Alone

The Bible clearly states that justification is received by faith apart from works.

Romans 5:1: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Faith in Jesus Christ brings justification and peace with God. It is faith, not works, that is the instrument of justification.

Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

This passage reiterates that salvation, which includes justification, is by grace through faith and not by human efforts, ensuring that no one can boast of their own righteousness.

The Righteousness of Christ

Justification involves the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer. It is a legal declaration where the believer’s sins are forgiven, and Christ’s righteousness is credited to their account.

2 Corinthians 5:21: "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Christ became sin for us, taking our punishment, so that we could be declared righteous before God. This is the essence of justification.

Immediate and Complete

Justification is an instantaneous act. The moment a person believes in Jesus Christ, they are justified.

Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit."

This assurance underscores the immediate effect of justification—there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

Sanctification: A Lifelong Process

Definition and Nature

Sanctification is the process by which a believer is made holy. Unlike justification, which is an instant legal declaration, sanctification is an ongoing transformative process.

1 Thessalonians 4:3: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality."

Sanctification is God’s will for every believer, involving a gradual separation from sin and growth in holiness.

By God’s Grace and Man’s Submission

Sanctification is a cooperative process between God’s grace and the believer’s active submission and effort.

Philippians 2:12-13: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."

Believers are called to work out their salvation, indicating an active role in the sanctification process, while recognizing that it is God who empowers them to do so.

Hebrews 12:14: "Pursue ... holiness, without which no one will see the Lord."

This verse highlights the necessity of actively pursuing holiness, a key aspect of sanctification.

The Role of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit plays a crucial role in sanctification, guiding and empowering believers to grow in holiness.

Galatians 5:16-17: "I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish."

Walking in the Spirit involves yielding to the Holy Spirit’s influence, which helps believers resist sinful desires and grow in godliness.

Progressive and Lifelong

Sanctification is a progressive journey that continues throughout a believer’s life. It involves daily growth and transformation into the image of Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:18: "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord."

This transformation is a continual process, from one degree of glory to another, facilitated by the Holy Spirit.

Philippians 1:6: "Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."

God, who begins the work of sanctification, promises to bring it to completion, assuring believers of His ongoing work in their lives.

The Interconnection Between Justification and Sanctification

While justification and sanctification are distinct, they are inseparably connected in the believer’s life.

Sequential but Simultaneous

Justification occurs at the moment of faith and is followed by the process of sanctification. However, both are aspects of the believer’s salvation journey and occur simultaneously after one is justified.

Romans 6:22: "But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life."

Freedom from sin (justification) leads to a life of holiness (sanctification), culminating in eternal life.

Evidence of Justification

Sanctification serves as evidence of justification. A genuine experience of being justified by faith will result in a transformed life.

James 2:17: "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

True faith, which justifies, will produce works of sanctification. These works are the fruit of a changed life and evidence of genuine faith.

Practical Implications for Believers

Understanding the differences between justification and sanctification has profound practical implications for believers.

Assurance of Salvation

Justification provides the foundation for assurance of salvation. Knowing that one is declared righteous before God by faith alone brings peace and confidence.

Romans 5:1: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Pursuit of Holiness

Sanctification calls believers to an active pursuit of holiness. This involves daily decisions to obey God, resist sin, and grow in Christlikeness.

1 Peter 1:15-16: "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"

Dependence on God’s Grace

Both justification and sanctification highlight the need for dependence on God’s grace. Justification is received by grace through faith, and sanctification is empowered by God’s grace working in the believer.

2 Corinthians 12:9: "And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Community and Accountability

Sanctification often involves the support and accountability of the Bible believing community. Believers are encouraged to support and exhort one another in the journey of holiness.

Hebrews 10:24-25: "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."


In conclusion, justification and sanctification are two distinct yet interconnected aspects of the believer’s salvation. Justification is an instantaneous act of God where a sinner is declared righteous by faith alone, not by works. It provides the foundation for the believer’s assurance of salvation. Sanctification, on the other hand, is a lifelong process of becoming holy, involving both God’s grace and the believer’s active submission and effort. This process is facilitated by the Holy Spirit.

By understanding the differences between justification and sanctification and their practical implications, believers can better appreciate the comprehensive nature of their salvation and live out their faith in a manner that honors God. They can rest in the assurance of their justified status before God while actively pursuing holiness through the ongoing process of sanctification, relying on God’s grace and power every step of the way.

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