Question 32: What do justification and sanctification mean?
Answer: Justification means our declared righteousness before God, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection for us. Sanctification means our gradual, growing righteousness, made possible by the Spirit’s work in us.
The catechism links our justification to Christ’s death and resurrection for us. What is the connection between these things? By his death on the cross, Jesus Christ took our sins upon himself, so that they may no longer be counted to us. We receive forgiveness of sins because the punishment of our sins has already been carried out. But what about Christ’s resurrection? How does it affect our justification? If we remember the biblical teaching that death is God’s condemnation for sin (Gen. 2:17), then we can understand how, as long as he was dead, Christ remained under condemnation, and thus unable to deliver us from the condemnation that he himself was under. But justification is the opposite of condemnation, and thus by the reversal of death in the resurrection of Christ, God gave a definitive declaration that Jesus Christ is indeed righteous, or justified. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the event of his justification, the overturning of the condemnation pronounced against him by the Jewish Sanhedrin and by Pontius Pilate. By faith, we share in his death and resurrection, so that God’s verdict of justification pronounced on the day of Christ’s resurrection counts for us who are in Christ.
Think of it this way: when Christ died and was raised again from the dead, it was the bringing forward into history of God’s final judgment for Christ himself and for all who would believe in Christ. Therefore, we who have been justified by faith have no future judgment to fear. We relate to God as our loving Father who has already dealt with our sins.
Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Romans 4:1-25. How does Paul describe justification in this passage? How does it relate to faith and works? How is it tied to Christ’s death and resurrection?