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Justification and Sanctification: Differences

As important as it is to know how justification and sanctification are the same, it is at least as important to see how they differ.


1st. Justification is an act of God about the state of a man’s person; but sanctification is the work of God about the nature of a man: and these two are very different, as I shall illustrate by a similitude. Justification . . . is an act of God as a gracious Judge, sanctification is a work of God as a merciful Physician; David joins them both together (Psa. 103:3). ‘Who forgiveth all thine inqiuities, who healeth all thy diseases.’ It is promised, That iniquity shall not be your ruin (Ezek. 18:30), in the guilt of it; that is justification: and it shall not be your ruin, in the power of it; there lies sanctification.

2ndly. Justification is an act of God’s grace upon the account of the righteousness of another, but sanctification is a work of God, infusing a righteousness into us. Now there is a great difference between these two: for the one is by imputation, the other by infusion.

In justification, the sentence of God proceeds this way: the righteousness that Christ wrought out by His life and death, and the obedience that He paid to the law of God, is reckoned to the guilty sinner for his absolution; so that when a sinner comes to stand at God’s bar, when the question is asked, Hath not this man broken the law of God? Yes, saith God; yes, saith the conscience of the poor sinner, I have broken it in innumerable ways. And doth not the law condemn thee to die for thy transgression? Yes, saith the man; yes, saith the law of God, the law knows nothing more but this; ‘the soul that sinneth must die.’ Well, then, but Is there no hope in this case? Yes, and Gospel grace reveals this hope. There is One that took sin on Him, and died for our sins, and His righteousness is reckoned for the poor sinner’s justification; and thus we are absolved. We are absolved in justification by God’s reckoning on our account, on our behalf, and for our advantage, what Christ hath done and suffered for us.

In sanctification the Spirit of God infuses a holiness into the soul. I do not say He infuses a righteousness; for I would fain have these words, righteousness and holiness, better distinguished than generally they are. Righteousness and holiness are, in this case, to be kept vastly asunder. Our righteousness is without us; our holiness is within us, it is our own; the Apostle plainly makes that distinction. ‘Not having mine own righteousness’ (Phil. 3:9). It is our own, not originally, but our own inherently; not our own so us to be of our own working, but our own because it is indwelling in us. But our righteousness is neither our own originally nor inherently; it is neither wrought out by us, nor doth it dwell in us; but it is wrought out by Jesus Christ, and it eternally dwells in Him, and is only to be pleaded by faith, by a poor creature. But our holiness, though it be not our own originally, yet it is our own inherently, it dwells in us: this is the distinction that the Apostle makes. ‘That I may be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith’ (Phil. 3:9).

3rdly. Justification is perfect, but sanctification is imperfect; and here lies a great difference between them. Justification, I say, is perfect, and admits of no degrees; admits of no decays, admits of no intermission, nor of any interruption: but sanctification admits of all these. When I say justification is perfect, I mean, that every justified man is equally and perfectly justified. . . . And the plain reason of it is this—the ground of it is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the entitling us to it is by an act of God the gracious Judge, and that act stands for ever; and if God justifies, who is he that shall condemn? (Rom. 8:33). But sanctification is an imperfect, incomplete, changeable thing. . . .

Sanctification differs greatly as to the persons that are partakers of it; and it differs greatly too as to the same man; for a true believer, a truly sanctified man, may be more holy and sanctified at one time than at another. There is a work required of us—to be perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1). But we are nowhere required to be perfecting righteousness in the sight of God; for God hath brought in a perfect righteousness, in which we stand; but we are to take care, and to give diligence to perfect holiness in the fear of God. A saint in glory is more sanctified than ever he was, for he is perfectly so; but he is not more justified than he was.

—Robert Trail, cited in J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 441–444. [Source: Traill’s Sermons, upon 1 Pet. i. 1–3, vol. 4, p. 71. Edinburgh edition of Traill’s Works. 1810.]

Posted 2017·04·06 by David Kjos
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