Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?
Westminster Larger Catechism
Q. 77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?
A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued; the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.
1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 4:6, 8; Ezek. 36:27; Rom. 3:24-25; Rom. 6:6, 14; Rom. 8:33-34; 1 John 2:12-14; Heb. 5:12-14; 1 John 1:8, 10; 2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 3:12-14.
In the Reformed tradition, the Westminster Larger Catechism offers an insightful and comprehensive exposition on the question, "Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?" (Q. 77). This question pertains to the distinct roles of justification and sanctification in the Christian's spiritual journey, and the Catechism's answer elucidates the differences between these two doctrines with profundity and nuance. As such, this exposition seeks to elucidate the distinctions drawn by the Westminster Larger Catechism between justification and sanctification, as well as the implications of these doctrines for the believer's spiritual life.
The Catechism's answer to Question 77 begins by acknowledging that sanctification is "inseparably joined with justification." This assertion highlights the intertwined nature of these two aspects of salvation, which are both essential components of the believer's experience of God's saving grace. Despite their inseparable connection, the Catechism goes on to delineate several key differences between justification and sanctification.
Firstly, the Catechism explains that in justification, "God imputeth the righteousness of Christ," while in sanctification, "his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof" (1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 4:6, 8; Ezek. 36:27). This distinction highlights the differing mechanisms at work in these two aspects of salvation: justification is a legal act in which the believer's sins are pardoned and the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to them by faith (Rom. 3:24-25), whereas sanctification is a transformative process wherein the Holy Spirit infuses grace into the believer's heart, enabling them to grow in holiness and conform to the image of Christ (Rom. 6:6, 14).
Another critical difference elucidated by the Catechism lies in the effects of justification and sanctification on the believer's relationship to sin. In justification, sin is pardoned, meaning that the believer is no longer under the penalty of God's revenging wrath and is thus eternally secure from falling into condemnation (Rom. 8:33-34). Conversely, in sanctification, sin is subdued, indicating that the believer is progressively freed from the captivity of sin as they grow in holiness (1 John 2:12-14; Heb. 5:12-14).
Moreover, the Catechism highlights the distinction in the degrees of perfection achieved in justification and sanctification. Justification "doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation" (Rom. 8:33-34). In other words, justification is an instantaneous, once-for-all event that secures the believer's eternal standing before God. Sanctification, on the other hand, "is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection" (1 John 1:8, 10; 2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 3:12-14). This statement underscores the ongoing, progressive nature of sanctification, which is marked by varying degrees of growth and maturity among believers, ultimately culminating in the believer's ultimate perfection in the life to come.
In conclusion, the Westminster Larger Catechism's exposition of the differences between justification and sanctification provides a robust understanding of these essential doctrines within the Reformed tradition. While both aspects of salvation are inseparably connected, the Catechism elucidates the distinct roles they play in the believer's spiritual journey, namely the legal act of justification that imputes Christ's righteousness and pardons the believer's sins, and the transformative process of sanctification that progressively frees the believer from the power of sin and leads to spiritual growth. By drawing upon these distinctions, the Westminster Larger Catechism highlights the multifaceted nature of God's saving work in the believer's life, which encompasses both the objective, legal standing before God and the subjective, experiential transformation into Christlikeness.
In addition to the distinctions already discussed in the Westminster Larger Catechism, several other notable distinctions between justification and sanctification can be drawn from the broader Reformed tradition:
Imputed vs. Imparted Righteousness: Justification involves the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is credited to the believer's account, while sanctification involves the imparted righteousness, wherein God's righteousness is progressively infused into the believer's life (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 6:19).
External vs. Internal Change: Justification is an external, forensic declaration by God, which changes the believer's legal status before Him, while sanctification is an internal, spiritual transformation that affects the believer's heart, mind, and will (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 4:22-24).
Positional vs. Experiential: Justification is positional, in that it establishes the believer's standing before God and is not contingent upon their subjective experience, while sanctification is experiential, reflecting the believer's actual growth in holiness and their progressive conformity to the image of Christ (Gal. 2:16; 2 Pet. 3:18).
Instantaneous vs. Progressive: Justification is an instantaneous act that occurs at the moment of conversion, whereas sanctification is a progressive, lifelong process that begins at conversion and continues until the believer's glorification (John 5:24; Phil. 1:6).
Unchanging vs. Dynamic: Justification is a fixed and unchanging aspect of the believer's salvation, which cannot be lost or diminished, whereas sanctification is dynamic, with the believer experiencing varying degrees of growth, setbacks, and progress in their pursuit of holiness (Rom. 8:1; 1 Thess. 5:23-24).
By examining these distinctions, we gain a more comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted nature of God's saving work in the believer's life, recognizing the unique roles played by both justification and sanctification in the believer's journey toward spiritual maturity and ultimate glorification.
Positional and progressive sanctification are terms used to describe two aspects of the sanctification process within the believer's life. While these terms may not be explicitly found in Scripture, they have been employed by theologians to help clarify the different dimensions of sanctification.
Positional/Definitive Sanctification: Positional sanctification refers to the believer's standing before God in Christ at the moment of conversion. Upon faith in Jesus Christ, the believer is set apart or consecrated unto God, being declared holy because of their union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:2, 6:11). This aspect of sanctification emphasizes the believer's new identity and spiritual status in Christ, which is not based on their own merit or personal holiness, but on the righteousness of Christ imputed to them. Positional sanctification is a one-time, unchanging event, which signifies the believer's entrance into a new relationship with God and sets the foundation for the ongoing process of spiritual growth. As defined by John Frame, it is "a once-for-all event, simultaneous with effectual calling and regeneration, that transfers us from the sphere of sin to the sphere of God’s holiness, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God." Definitive sanctification marks us out (or separates us) as God’s chosen people – His treasured and covenantal possession (Acts 20:32; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11). So too, definitive sanctification redeems (or frees) us from the dominion (or slavery) of sin by uniting us to Christ, particularly in His death, resurrection and ascension. Sanctification, in this sense, refers to a decisive and radical break from the power of sin.
Progressive Sanctification: Progressive sanctification, on the other hand, refers to the lifelong process through which the believer is gradually transformed into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 2:12-13). This aspect of sanctification is characterized by an ongoing growth in personal holiness, as the believer cooperates with the Holy Spirit, submits to God's Word, and actively pursues righteousness (Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:1-17). Progressive sanctification is a dynamic and continuous process, which involves the believer's commitment to spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Bible study, worship, and fellowship with other believers, as well as their engagement in acts of service and ministry (1 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 10:24-25).
While positional and progressive sanctification are distinct aspects of the believer's spiritual journey, they are closely related and interdependent. Positional sanctification serves as the foundation for progressive sanctification, as the believer's new identity and status in Christ provide the motivation and spiritual resources necessary for the pursuit of personal holiness. In turn, progressive sanctification is the outworking of the believer's positional sanctification, as it reflects their ongoing transformation into the image of Christ and the practical realization of their new identity in Him.
In summary, positional sanctification refers to the believer's initial standing before God in Christ upon conversion, while progressive sanctification describes the ongoing process of spiritual growth and transformation in the believer's life. Both aspects of sanctification are essential components of the believer's journey toward spiritual maturity and holiness, reflecting the multifaceted nature of God's saving work in their life.