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Tony Lane:

The Reformation doctrine makes a deliberate and systematic distinction between justification on the one hand and sanctification or regeneration on the other hand.

  • Justification refers to my status; sanctification to my state.
  • Justification is about God’s attitude to me changing; sanctification is about God changing me.
  • Justification is about how God looks on me; sanctification is about what he does in me.
  • Justification is about Christ dying for my sins on the cross; sanctification is about Christ at work in me by the Holy Spirit changing my life.

The Reformers were careful to distinguish these two–but not to separate them. One cannot have one without the other–as with the heat and light of the sun. The sun gives out heat and light. These two cannot be separated. When the sun shines there is both heat and light; yet they are distinct and not to be confused. We are not warmed by the sun’s light nor illumined by its heat. To use a modern illustration, justification and sanctification are like the two legs of a pair of trousers, not like two socks which may well become separated and, in the author’s experience, too often do become separated.

Anthony N.S. Lane, Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue: An Evangelical Assessment, p. 18.

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9 thoughts on “The Difference between Justification and Sanctification”

  1. Alex Chediak says:

    A good word!

  2. justin says:

    And, both justification and sanctification are by faith in Christ alone.
    There is a tendency to believe in justification by faith and sanctification by works.
    Galatians 2:15-3:5 should do away with that tendency forever.

  3. Noah Braymen says:

    Thanks for this quote…it reminds me of this quote from JC Ryle:

    “I would humbly suggest that we are apt to overlook the doctrine of growth in grace, and that we do not sufficiently consider how very far a person may go in a profession of religion, and yet have no grace, and be dead in God’s sight after all . . . I have no desire to make an idol of holiness. I do not wish to dethrone Christ, and put holiness in His place. But I must candidly say I wish sanctification was more thought of in this day than it seems to be, and I therefore take occasion to press the subject on all believers into whose hand these pages may fall. I fear it is sometimes forgotten that God has married together justification and sanctification. They are distinct and different things, beyond question, but one is never found without the other. All justified people are sanctified, and all sanctified are justified. What God has joined together let no man dare put asunder. Tell me not of your justification, unless you have also some marks of sanctification. Boast not of Christ’s work for you, unless you can show us the Spirit’s work in you. Think not that Christ and the Spirit can ever be divided. I doubt not that many believers know these things, but I think it good for us to be put in remembrance of them. Let us prove that we know them by our lives. Let us try to keep in view this text more continually: ‘Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.’” (page 152-153 of Faithfulness and Holiness)

    In Christ,

  4. Michael F. Bird says:

    JT, thanks for this. To put in my two cents: I’d maintain that (1) righteousness, forenisic and ethical, is rooted in union with Christ, and (2) justification and sanctification are linked logically rather than conceptually for Paul.

  5. christopher says:

    In preaching the cross, let us not forget the empty tomb. (The resurrection is more than an apologetic tool.) “Jesus our Lord. . .was delivered up for our trespasses and RAISED FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION.” – Rom. 4:25

  6. Allen R. Mickle, Jr. says:

    You will be interested in this article by Bill Combs titled “The Disjunction between Justification and Sanctification in Contemporary Evangelical Theology” found here:

  7. Scott says:

    True, although it has to be noted for clarity that sometimes the word ‘sanctification’ is used in the NT to speak of a believers status, i.e. 1 Corinthians 1:2, 6:11.

  8. Terence says:

    I think we all agree that an attempt to separate these two concepts within the one man – as if it would be possible to have the former without manifesting the later, indicates to me a willingness to embrace the faith without demonstration/evidence of His work in our lives.
    Those who worship “The Word” without incarnating the meanings behind the word in their lives are like those who go away from James’ mirror – embracing Freedom without Responsibility.
    This brings us to the REAL meaning of the word “Religion” – the binding back of what we believe to the way we live.

  9. Terence says:


    I meant the opposite in precedence – “Religion” is the binding back of the way we live to what we believe – to our conception of the Truth.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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