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.
Those who are justified in Christ receive the blessing of God’s Spirit as they are adopted into God’s family. The Holy Spirit produces in us the work of sanctification, or making us holy by transforming our hearts to love God and neighbor more over time, until we are perfected and free of all sin in the age to come. Sanctification is essential to our salvation, because we cannot properly inhabit the coming heavenly world if we remain sinful in any way. Sanctification brings to us the joy of knowing and loving God more and more as we grow to hate sin more and more as that which opposes him and destroys his creation.
So how do we pursue sanctification? We seek to listen to God regularly through his Word, responding to him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and we engage in these activities in the community of other believers who walk with us, strengthening us, encouraging us, rebuking us, and caring for us. In other words, the primary context of sanctification is in the local church where the ministry of the Word happens, and where baptism and the Lord’s Supper are observed regularly, and where church members in covenant with each other commit to walking together in love.
Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Philippians 3:2-16. Do you see Paul talking about both justification and sanctification in this passage? What do we learn about both from Paul here?