I have been doing a Bible Study on Sunday mornings using a page out of the Good News magazine (can’t recall which issue). It is on “The Distinction Between Justification and Sanctification.” So far it has been a really helpful study, not only for my parishioners, but for myself as well. Although in Scripture the words are sometimes interchangeable, for the purposes of this study it has helped me explain to my members how so many errors are made in Christian theology just by confusing these.
Justification, for example, is complete, instantaneous, not a process. Sanctification, by contrast, is a gradual process, it is growth, it is not complete, but involves daily renewal. Justification is the “for us” of the Creed; Sanctification is God’s work in us. These may seem like elementary principles for theologians, but it is amazing to me how misunderstanding this distinction or confusing them can lead to so many errors.
One thing it has also allowed me to empahsize is the fact that our justification (God’s judicial act outside of us in Christ) is not based on our Sanctification. Thus, we can never look to what God is doing in us for certainty of his acceptance of us, or we will either turn into crass Pharisees, or despair. We always, always look to the “for us” of Justification for forgiveness, for certainty of salvation, for proof of God’s love toward us. We must constantly return to the article of Justification when we want to be sure of God’s forgiveness and mercy. But in doing so, we do not deny the work that God is doing in us by the Spirit of His Son.
For a really helpful explanation of this distinction, check out Adolf Koeberle’s book The Quest for Holiness. This book, perhaps better than any other, helped me to understand the concept of the completeness of Justification, while at the same time appreciating the process that is involved in Sanctification. I would commend this Good News study to you pastors for use in your church. It has been very helpful. In one sense, it has helped me to remember that by faith in the sufferings and death of Christ, I am perfectly and completely justified in God’s sight. And yet, in the area of sanctification, I need some work! A lot of work.