Sunday, February 14, 2010

Clarification on Justification Vs. Sanctification

Earlier this week I posted a quote by John Piper from his book "When I Don't Desire God" In response to that post I received a comment that I wanted to take the time to respond to, as I was researching my response and putting together my comment I really felt like some of the things I was discussing were important enough to post to everyone rather than just the comment readers.

So here is my response:

I want to start by saying, this comment/post is not a defense of Piper or his book, per se. I have not read the book except for a few small passages. So at this point, I am not in a position to defend what I have not read.

However, I do feel the need to address the issues of sanctification and justification from a Biblical perspective (at least as much as I can).

First, I want to just be clear what I am meaning, and what I believe John Piper was meaning, by both terms we are using. The term justification (justify, justified, etc.) – is interpreted by Strong’s as to “render righteous, to declare or pronounce one to be just or righteous”. It is the declaration of “not guilty” that we receive the MOMENT we put our faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

I am assuming, or perhaps hoping, that the difference in our interpretation is what we are meaning by sanctification. There are actually two separate greek words translated into our English word “sanctify” or “sanctification”

The first word ‘Hagiazo’ means (according to Strong’s) “to render or acknowledge, or to be venerable or hallow, to separate from profane things and dedicate to God, consecrate things to God, dedicate people to God, to purify: to cleanse externally, to purify by expiation: free from the guilt of sin, to purify internally by renewing of the soul” – an example of it’s usage can be found in where Paul is greeting the church in Corinth “To the church in of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus….” This word refers primarily to an act of dedicating something to God.

The second word is ‘Hagiasmos’ which means “consecration, purification, the effect of consecration, sanctification of heart and life”. In the KJV it was translated equally as either sanctification or holiness. An example of this word in use (and one that Piper used) can be found in Romans 6:22 “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. “

When discussing sanctification, we must be very careful to take these different word uses into account. Additionally, another important caution we must take when discussing concepts of scripture is to not “flatten” texts. This is when we incorrectly take a text from one particular place in Scripture to compare it with a similar verse in another area of scripture. The risk we run is that, one scripture may be interpreting the same word/term differently or from a different perspective or even (in our case) using two different greek/hebrew words into the same english word. When this occurs we do not find a contradiction in the Word, but rather a possible misinterpretation by the user.

Saying that, if we are using sanctify to mean different things I can understand more clearly where you are coming from when you say that you think sanctification occurs before justification. However, if you are referring to the process of sanctification, which is in fact a Biblical concept, occurs BEFORE justification I feel as though we may be on completely different pages theologically.

It is my (very strong) belief that we do NOTHING in our own accord to earn or prepare ourselves for salvation. It is a free gift from God and we don’t need (nor can we) do anything to deserve a right-standing with God. We have in fact been set apart, or sanctified, and we have certainly been justified, being able to stand before the Judge of creation covered in a robe of righteousness, all in Christ Jesus. This is absolutely true, the order in which those two things occur… and we’re moving into a little bit of predestination theology here, really doesn’t matter. What does matter, and what the point of Piper’s quote is – it is only after we are justified (made right before God) that an inward transformation begins to occur. As we are always in this process, we will never be fully sanctified in our actions this side of heaven, we must be careful not to confuse the fact that justification is NOT the same as the process of sanctification. Otherwise, our justification would somehow be contingent on our works and ability to make ourselves holy…. Which is clearly unbiblical (for more reading on this I suggest the book of Romans and/or Galatians as a starting point).


Michelle said...

Nick said previously:

What I was trying to say was that Piper's ordering of justification and sanctification isn't derived from Biblical evidence. Texts like 1 Cor 6:11, Titus 3:4-7, and Phil 3:9-11 (among others) show justification is based off of an inner transformation/cleansing of the person. In other words, the Bible teaches sanctification precedes justification

Titus 3:4-7 is very clear that we are justified by grace and not sanctification. I guess I couldn’t really understand the point on Philippians 3:9-11 you were making. And on 1 Corinthians 6:11…,And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

I like what Matthew Henry says in his commentary on this scripture. Basically, sanctification is mentioned before justification, but Lord Jesus is mentioned before the Spirit. Jesus is our means of justification while the Spirit is our means of sanctification.

I also like how Paul put it when he said, “whom he called, he justified…glorified.” (Romans 8: 29) Past tense. It’s important to remember the work of Christ is done. Our justification is complete by the grace and faith He gives us (Ephesians 2:8-9). We can find peace in knowing that if we are justified the Spirit will also sanctify us. Why? Because He that has begun a good work, will finish it. (Phil 1:6)

I guess all in all, the main question is whether we believe sanctification is the work of God or our own works? Does washing of regeneration mean that we are justified and sanctified at the same time? Is it something separate? And if it’s God’s work…does it matter? The most important thing is that God gets ALL the glory and we realize our righteousness is filthy rags before the Lord.

Nick said...


Sorry for the late response, I've been busy and kind of sick.

Anyway, thank you for addressing this issue. You seem to be arguing two kinds of sanctification, one is a 'setting apart' while the other is 'inner cleansing'. While there might be such a distinction, I think context must determine which is which, and also it should be investigated as to whether something can be "set aside" without being ontologically clean.

Just based on the definition you gave from Strong's, there is no such clear cut distinction from the first term, as the quote you gave clearly includes meanings such as: "to purify: to cleanse externally, to purify by expiation: free from the guilt of sin, to purify internally by renewing of the soul." This is clearly how it's used in places like Acts 26:18 "sanctified by faith" (cf Acts 15:9).

Further, the way the second term is used, it appears it carries the same range of meanings as the first. For example, "Hagiasmos" is used in places like 1 Pt 1:2 - which is equivalent to 1 Cor 1:2. And a similar thing can be said for places like 2 Thes 2:13.

Given this, I don't see a sufficient case for your sharp distinction, and the Biblical evidence I see infact doesn't make that distinction.

When it comes to texts like 1 Cor 6:11, the context is that they used to be living in sin, but they were "washed" and "sanctified". I don't see how 'washed' can refer to anything but inner cleansing, and the fact it's said to be done at the moment of salvation doesn't help a 'setting apart' interpretation.


Thank you for addressing those texts I gave, I'd just like to clarify in case you missed my point.

Titus 3:5 says "saved by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit," that's got to be an inner transformation, else 'regeneration', 'washing', and 'renewal' don't make sense.

Phil 3:9-10 says "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death," indicating what is going on is a radical transformation of Paul's soul by faith.

And lastly, 1 Cor 6:11, I'm not sure what you're saying here that directly addresses the point. The context is of Corinthians formerly living in sin, but then "washed, sanctified, justified."

As for your final question, whether sanctification is God's work or ours, I'd say the Biblical answer is 'both', for both are indicated. What is always the case is God is behind it. In the situations of conversion, it's solely God doing the sanctifying, which isn't a problem. The problem is saying the sanctification comes 'after' justification, because the Bible simply doesn't speak like that.