Justification and sanctification are often confused as being the same thing. Christians through the years often ask, “What is sanctification? Is it the same as justification?” As always, understanding the words of the Bible remain paramount to a person’s comprehension of God’s message. The words sanctify, sanctification, holy, and holiness all derive and relate to the same root. In the Hebrew, the word is hadash, in the Greek, hagiazo. The basic meaning of these terms is “to make holy, that is set apart, that is (ceremonially) purify or consecrate; (mentally) to venerate: – set apart, be holy, sanctify” (Strong). A rendition of this old word in modern English would be ‘sacred’ – something dedicated to godly purposes. However, in the original use of the word from the Bible, “sanctify” does not always imply a religious or spiritual transformation. A godly transformation results from setting one’s self apart from worldly living, but the term’s basic meaning implies any kind of separation or dedication, not just religious. Only in the context can the word take on religious significance. It is affirmed that the Father sanctified the Son (John 10:36), and the Son sanctified Himself (John 17:19). Clearly from this usage, the word does not always mean to become sinless, since neither God nor Jesus ever sinned. Sanctification just means to separate, it doesn’t always mean being saved, it can depending on the context, but not always.
Sanctification is not the same as justification. Justification is the confirmation, on the part of God, of the reconciliation between a formerly sinful person and Himself. To be justified is to be innocent or just before God, nothing laid against one’s account. Simply put, justification means one is saved. Therefore, sanctification is the means (separating oneself from sin), and justification is the result. Similar to the relationship between inspiration and revelation; inspiration is the means, and revelation is the result.
Within the various branches of Christendom, sanctification and justification have been taught as happening at different stages of a believer’s walk in faith. Anglicans testified that sanctification is changing to become holy. Richard Hooker (1554-1600), famed Anglican theologian, distinguished between the “righteousness of justification,” which came only through God at the moment of belief, while the “righteousness of sanctification” came through works of merit (Gibbs, Lee W. “Richard Hooker’s Via Media Doctrine of Justification” in The Harvard Theological Review 74, no. 2 (1981): 211-220.). John Calvin (1509-1564), founder of Calvinist thought, believed sanctification and justification could only be obtained by the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit; based not on what a person does, but on the unconditional election of God. Sanctification was the process of becoming holy as opposed to the single act of justification (Gerhard O. Forde, Donald L. Alexander, Sinclair B. Ferguson. Christian spirituality: five views of sanctification. InterVarsity Press (1988): 47-76). Most Reformation theology, which founded many modern denominational doctrines, explained justification as the initial act of obtaining grace while sanctification was a process of becoming more holy as the believer continued in the works of God. In this case, the reformation theologians got it backward, which is why many churches today get the two ideas confused.
God reveals the simple connection between sanctification and justification through the writings of Paul to the church in Corinth. Paul writes, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Paul portrays the Christians at Corinth as once being a terrible people described as murders, blackmailers, and thieves, but Paul commends the people for accepting the gospel, which then transformed them into Christians. The inspired apostle explains this transformation as being “washed,” “sanctified,” and being “justified” (vs. 11). Paul references the washing of regeneration by which sinners have their sins removed (Titus 3:5; Rom. 6:3-5; Acts 22:16). The Corinthians wash themselves clean of sin in baptism, which sanctifies them by separating themselves for God and away from sin (Eph. 5:26; 2 Cor. 6:17). By sanctifying themselves in baptism, God justified them; they were saved. Washing (baptism), justification, and sanctification all happen at the same time, but they describe different aspects to being saved.
In the Greek, Paul employed the aorist tense to these words meaning they were once done in the past. These actions were a once and done situation. The Corinthians were not justified as soon as they believed, then later ceremoniously dedicated in the washing of water through baptism, then became more holy as they were slowly sanctified over a period of years by their works. Paul didn’t use verbs of continual action, he used verbs of past tense that happened once in the past.
Sanctification is not a secondary act of grace, while justification is the first. The two acts happen at the same time in baptism. Sanctification is the means, and justification is the result. Sinners either sanctify themselves in baptism by having their sins washed away or they don’t; it is not a continual action. Once sinners sanctify (separate) themselves from sin through baptism, they are justified (saved).