Listening is a skill rarely taught in schools, in work, or even in church.
Most people use listening as a method of personal benefit, rather than to learn or understand. Typically, we listen just enough to decide if there is any value for ourselves in what we are hearing, or just enough to decide on what to declare back in response. Listening is used to decide what we want, rather than to develop ourselves or understand others. Like so many other methods of interaction, we are selfish at the core.
When we approach God with that self-centered type of listening, we set ourselves up to be deceived; thinking we understand, but ignorant of the truth.
In order to avoid deception, it is important to understand the meanings of words used in Scripture. One of the tactics of false teachers is to cast doubt on what God says. Satan did it in the Garden: “Did God really say…?” So even today within churches, or through media, or in popular Christian teachings, the lines are often blurred, leaving people confused and easily misled, by “fine sounding doctrines” that distort the truth of the Gospel.
Two of the most adulterated words in Scripture are justify and sanctify. They show up repeatedly in both the Old and New Testament, and they often appear interchangeable. Especially as they are used to describe the doctrine of salvation, justification and sanctification often are assumed and taught to mean the same thing. The common explanation is that they speak of what Jesus has done for us, that the foundational belief of “faith alone” informs believers that neither word has any significant distinction regarding salvation.
Sadly, many teachers will interchange justification, sanctification, and salvation, as if they are synonyms of basically the same thing. Bible writers, like writers and speakers today, will often use parts to reference the whole, or at other times to identify some subset detail of the whole. The audience must consider the context to understand what purpose is intended in using words. As such, when Paul references justification, especially in his letter to the Romans, he is most often speaking of that subset detail of what actually causes a believer’s moral rightness with God, rather than instructing on understanding how salvation occurs as a whole. In turn, when James uses the word justify, he clearly is referencing the foundation upon which a believer expresses their sanctified actions to “prove their faith”.
Salvation is typically the word used to speak of the overall purpose of God in redeeming humans, but it also is used to reference that more specific moment of eternal transformation into the Kingdom. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are most often referenced as subsets of salvation. There is enormous danger in generalizing the details, when biblical statements are being presented for the purpose of instruction on a subset detail. Such an approach will destroy any ability to recognize biblical truth.
For many, to be justified, is to be sanctified, and vis a versa. But that is not how Scripture teaches on these words.
Justify means “right standing before God” and thus is a moral-reference and always points toward salvation.
Sanctify means “set apart for holy use by God” and thus is a use-reference, and may be limited to uses in this life, or extend all the way to salvation if grounded upon justification.
To be justified is to speak of righteous standing before God. It is a declaration of acceptable moral, sinless perfection as viewed by God. Prior to the advent of Jesus, this positional identity was declared upon people who responded to the call of God by faith, and thereafter confirmed it by obedient actions according to the command of God. Actions that confirm identity do not cause or earn that identity, but rather are outward sanctifying proof of one inwardly justified. Such believers were called righteous, which did not mean they were inherently sinless, but rather that God viewed them as rightly-connected-to-him. They were declared morally clean by identity even though not one of them would have been morally clean in practice.
That former possibility of being viewed by God as righteous (pre-Jesus), was a reference to temporary representation, not to a righteousness sufficient for salvation. It was a justified standing that pointed toward salvation, but not that could gain salvation. Able, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, all were called righteous, but all were still “in their sins” when they died. The Cross was determined “before Creation” to be that historic hinge-point for salvation, past and future. What Jesus did on the Cross was an act of perfect sanctification, demonstrated upon the basis of his own inherent righteousness. His justified, eternal, rightness with God has always been the required basis for salvation, since “in his forbearance, he left the sins committed before unpunished” (Rom 3), so that only through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice would anyone be declared righteous unto salvation!
The hope of salvation is not so different today, than yesterday.
Since the Cross of Christ, Christians are labeled scripturally as justified when called by God to express faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Like those before the Cross, Christians are likewise expected to continue in their declared position before God by obediently and submissively striving to sustain that righteous reflection of the Righteous One. Such efforts do nothing to acquire the label of one justified, because obedient activity is always a reference to sanctification.
Perfect moral standing is not humanly achievable by effort, but only by attribution. In other words, justification can only occur by God’s declaration of acceptance of absolute righteousness. Now that Christ has been revealed, it is understood that that can only occur by faith in Jesus, by which he then lives in that person. Since Jesus is the only one who will ever be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”, so only those who have Jesus dwelling in them can be identified as righteous for salvation. When all of humanity is eventually resurrected, every knee throughout history will bow and every tongue must confess that “Jesus is Lord to the glory of God”—whether that be by faithful submission of acceptance or through rebellious defiance of understanding.
To be sanctified, however, is not a moral reference, but rather a matter of being dedicated for holy use. Objects, like buildings, kitchen utensils and dishes, animals, and things can all be sanctified, but that does not mean they are also justified. A candle-stand may be set apart for holy use, but that does not mean it is considered righteous by God. A church building, a human body, and even names can be considered sanctified, but that does nothing of itself for salvation, because sanctification does not produce justification, whereas justification is the foundation for sanctification.
Children of believing Christians, and even unbelieving mates, are declared by God to be sanctified, but that does not mean they are either justified or saved. It means they have a very special dedication to God, and probably an extra blessing and protection because of their sanctified position as a direct relative of one considered by God as justified. Their sanctification rests upon another’s justification.
A believer who has the hope of salvation—in contrast to pots, pans, and unbelieving people—becomes sanctified upon the basis of justification. Justification is not something a person does, rather it is something we accept and then have declared upon us. Sanctification, on the other hand, is very much something we are expected to participate in, as we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. God says to all believers, “come out my people and be separate”.
The call to Christians is to be justified. The command to Christians is “be sanctified”. Through these, the hope of glory is to be saved at the return of Jesus.
The question may arise about those who are set apart for God, but are not themselves yet believers. They are sanctified, but not justified. However, their dedication for special use and connection to God is not without hope of justification, because moral righteousness has always been the basis of humanity through our Creator, in whose image we have all been made. This does not mean we are all naturally justified, but rather that justification will always be the foundation for anything and anyone dedicated to God, whether morally or functionally.
So, even children of Christians, who have yet to profess their own faith in Jesus as Lord, are sanctified in themselves for some limited purpose of God, and that upon the justifying work of Christ. When they come to their own senses, bow their knees and receive Jesus through personal faith, the sanctification they enjoyed remains and must continue to mature, but their own faith is grounded upon the primary work of Christ as one newly declared as justified and promised salvation. In this way, Jesus gets all the glory and his work remains the only foundation for salvation.
All who are justified automatically begin as also sanctified, because such standing implies a dedication of use as well. However, one sanctified, is not assured to also be justified. There is a choice of free will that the Bible says very clearly can impact a person—both their justified standing as well as their evidence of developed maturity in sanctification.
Both of these words, justify and sanctify, are presented within Scripture in past, present, and future terms. This detail is extremely important for sound doctrinal formation, because many deceptive teachers want to imply that both are effectively only past realities—automatic guarantees that have no chance of alteration or removal.
This distinction of time informs us that these words are intended to be living and not just a historical snapshot picture of some past declared event. Like a video that must be watch all the way to its conclusion, to really understand its message, one who is justified, is declared to be morally right before God because of Jesus’ life in them, but there is nothing in Scripture that says such a view of God toward that person can never change. In the same way, one who has started well in following God as one sanctified, is never guaranteed they will always remain holy and useful to God. Both must remain “in Him”, or risk having their “name erased from the Book of Life”.
False teachers will vehemently reject this biblical truth, but one initially justified, must remain justified, so that when Christ returns, they will receive the salvation promised to those who will be forever declared justified.
This same teaching of Scripture, says over and over again that those who have put their hand to the plow must not look back, or they will no longer be considered fit for the Kingdom of God. One who has begun their new life as sanctified, must devote themselves to producing the maturing fruit of life-long sanctification, so that when Jesus returns to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him, they will be accepted as holy and not shut out from eternity like foolish virgins.
Remember Nadab and Abihu. Aaron and his sons were divinely declared by God to be righteous representatives of God to his people and set apart for holy use in his tabernacle. They were justified and sanctified, but in spite of their status and identity as holy Priests, they offered fire and incense contrary to the specific instructions of God, and the Lord killed them both. They lost both their justified and sanctified status as well as their lives, however, the vessels they used were only sanctified and not justified and God told Moses that those objects remained holy since they had been dedicated for use to God.
Remember the Parable of the Soils. The gospel is spread to everyone, but for many they will neither be justified, nor sanctified, for the truth will be taken from them. For the next three groups, Jesus declares that they were all justified and sanctified believers, but two of those remaining three groups thought they were saved, but their moral and devoted identity to Christ was choked out and lost. Their ministers probably deceived them into thinking their justified standing was guaranteed, and they lost their fear of the Lord in their arrogant expectation of salvation.
Listen carefully, so that you will not lose out on salvation, you who think you are saved! (Heb 2:1)