From Your Pastor: Justification and Sanctification

Justification and Sanctification[1]

Below is a helpful chart to help you to distinguish between justification and sanctification.

A very important truth to keep in mind when thinking about justification and sanctification is that you should always make a distinction between the two, but never separate them (Calvin used the helpful Latin phrase: “distinctio non sed separatio” or “distinct but never separate”). Our confession states the distinction this way in the Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 70 and 75:

WLC 70 – What is justification? A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners,(1) in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight;(2) not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them,(3) but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them,(4) and received by faith alone.(5) (1)Rom. 3:22,24,25; Rom. 4:5 (2)2 Cor. 5:19,21; Rom. 3:22,24,25,27,28 3)Tit. 3:5,7; Eph. 1:7 (4)Rom. 5:17-19; Rom. 4:6-8 (5)Acts 10:43; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9

WLC 75 – What is sanctification? A. Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit(1) applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them,(2) renewed in their whole man after the image of God;(3) having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts,(4) and those graces so stirred up, increased and strengthened,(5) as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.(6) (1)Eph. 1:4; 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13 (2)Rom. 6:4-6 (3)Eph. 4:23,24 (4)Acts 11:18; 1 ohn 3:9 (5)Jude 20; Heb. 6:11,12; Eph. 3:16-19; Col. 1:10,11 (6)Rom. 6:4,6,14; Gal. 5:24

These two important aspects of salvation in Christ can be, and often are confused, and so it is important to keep these distinctions in mind without separating them (see Romans 8:29-31 as the Apostle Paul teaches that the grace that has begun in justification will always result and be fully realized in glorification through the sanctifying work of the Spirit).[2] To put it as pointedly as possible, you cannot have one without the other. The saving grace of Christ includes both justification and sanctification.

To be united to Christ by His Spirit means being a participant in the Spirit’s justifying work, as well as His sanctifying work. To make the proper distinctions will keep us from the terrible dangers of both legalism and antinomianism. It could also lead us to joy through the growing in our assurance of our faith.




Change in relation to God and His law: No longer condemned under the Law of God


Change in nature: I now love the Law of God and desire to keep it sincerely.


Judicial act of God acquitting believers Continual building up



Complete and not of various degrees Growing work of many degrees
Perfect at the first moment Not perfect until death
Equal in all Not the same in all believers


Cannot be lost Degrees may be lost


Instantaneous Progressive


Removes guilt and liability to penalty Kills the being and power of sin


Man accepted and righteousness imputed Grace infused and the Spirit given
Gives right to life Gives fitness to share inheritance
By faith alone Requires exercise of all graces



Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 60. Q. How are you righteous before God? Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs



[1] John Brown of Wamphray on Justification and Sanctification.  Source: John Brown, The Life of Justification Opened (N.p.: 1695), 268. See Joel R. Beeke, “John Calvin and John Brown of Wamphray on Justification,” in Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland: Essays on Scottish Theology, 1560–1775, ed. Aaron Clay Denlinger (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 191–211.

[2] We should also remember to always understand justification as the foundation of our sanctification. Roman Catholicism formally confuses the two and places the sanctifying work of the Spirit through the Church before justification. Rome teaches that a person works in cooperation with the Spirit through the Roman Catholic Church (what they call “sanctification” through the seven sacraments), and this leads to a final justification (after death, and many times through purgatory). This is a terrible heresy. And this teaching is for another day, but it is to emphasize now the importance of getting justification and sanctification correct, and in proper, biblical order (for formal teaching of Romanist doctrine see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1996, Second edition, III:sec.1, chap. 3, article 2, 1987-95).