What is the difference between justification, salvation and sanctification?

Grace and faith are the only way to justification, salvation, and sanctification. So what do I myself need to do?

6 min ·
What is the difference between justification, salvation and sanctification?

Justification, salvation and sanctification go hand in hand.

Justification, salvation and sanctification

Justification – forgiveness, the clearing of all of my guilt and the deserved penalty for committed sins, through faith in Jesus Christ, who took on the penalty for my sins and paid the price by dying in my stead. (Galatians 2:16) This leads to salvation.

Salvation – saved from the penalty of committed sin, but – even greater – also from the very root of sin; from the bondage I was in to the body of sin. (Hebrews 7:19, 25) The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in me and works in me, leading me to overcome sin before it is committed. I am saved from the necessity of committing sin just because I have sin – which leads to …

Sanctification – This is the result of salvation. It is the transformation from human to divine nature (2 Peter 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:15-16; Matthew 5:48); being made holy. This is a process I undergo throughout my lifetime as I, in obedience to the Spirit, put off the works of the flesh and take on the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-16)

Of course this is all by grace. By grace God worked in my heart, calling me to repentance. By grace and obedience to the faith, as a disciple, I am saved, sanctified, made holy, and purified as He, my Master, Savior, and Bridegroom, is pure.

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Salvation by faith

“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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10.

I am saved through grace and faith – that is the only way to salvation! – but “… if every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation!” Hebrews 2:3-4. In other words, there is a penalty for, having been saved, neglecting my salvation and falling back into old ways. That’s why I need to “… work out (my) own salvation with fear and trembling.” All the while knowing that it is “…. God who works in (me), both to will [this is grace] and to do [this is grace coupled with an active faith! Faith to do!].” Philippians 2:12-13.

Paul wrote to Timothy: “Take heed to yourself [the truth about myself, the sin that dwells in me; pay attention and be awake to temptation] and to the doctrine [to get to know the Scriptures, which is where I will find the standard I compare my life to]. Continue in them [be obedient to do what I see needs to be done – not allowing sin to reign in my body; not obeying it in its lusts], for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:16; Romans 6:12) This makes it clear that there is something that I myself need to do with regards to my salvation.

Saved to a greater degree

I was born again of the Spirit (John 3:5-6), and now I have to continue in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). The Spirit leads me to put off the works of the flesh. Yes, I have sin, against which I am powerless. But that does not mean that I have to commit sin! (1 John 5:18; 1 John 2:3-9) For it is God who works in me both to will and to doDo put off the works of the flesh through the Holy Spirit which works in me. These are the good works God has prepared for me beforehand, and which I am to walk in; to do. I do not see all of the works at once, but as I am faithful to be obedient to the Spirit, He can show me more and more and I can be saved to a greater and greater degree.

The Holy Spirit works in me, but the Holy Spirit Himself does not perform the works. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13. It is I who have to resist the lusts and desires of the flesh as they are revealed to me, I who have to stand firm in the time of temptation, I who have to overcome sin. Not in my own strength – my human strength is nothing – but through the power the Holy Spirit gives to those who are born of the Spirit.

These good works that I am to walk in are not the works of the law, but the works God prepared specifically for me, which I am prompted to do by the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-20; Romans 6:5-7)

Saved by an active, obedient faith

I am saved by faith, but not a stagnant, inanimate faith that Jesus has done everything in my place, and that there is nothing left for me to do. By an active, obedient faith I can put off the works of the flesh and put on the fruit of the Spirit. (Colossians 3:8-14) I am not bound to sin in the flesh! I do not have to commit sin!

“And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” Acts 5:32.

If I were to continue to do the works of the flesh, I would not be free. How can I say I am saved from sin if I continue to commit sin, because I am “covered by the righteousness of Jesus?”

“For he who sows to the flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” Galatians 6:8.

It is God who works in me; it is His grace drawing me on paths of righteousness, so I can’t boast that I have done anything. Without this gift of grace from God I would be powerless against sin. Therefore, all the glory goes to God. That’s why we will praise Him eternally, saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen!” Revelation 7:12.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.