Every Christian recognizes that there are important stages in the Christian life. Just as we are physically born, go through school, and get a job, so spiritually we are born again in Christ, grow in holiness through the Holy Spirit, and go to be with God forever. The terms Christians use to describe these important moments are justification, sanctification, and glorification. These three words are used to describe the Christian journey from new birth to resurrection.
First, we should remember what these words mean. Here are some definitions:
• Justification is “an act of God whereby He pronounces a sinner to be righteous because of that sinner’s faith in Christ.” We are justified, or declared righteous, at the moment of our salvation.
• Sanctification is “the process by which Christians are set apart for God from the rest of the world, or the process by which Christians are made holy.” Progressive, or experiential, sanctification, as it is sometimes called, is the effect of obedience to the Word of God in one’s life. It is the same as growing in the Lord (2 Peter 3:18) or spiritual maturity.
• Glorification is “God’s final removal of sin from the life of the saints so that they stand faultless before Him in glory in eternity” (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17). At Christ’s coming, the glory of God (Romans 5:2)—His honor, praise, majesty, and holiness—will be realized in us; we will have direct and unhindered access to God’s presence, and we will enjoy holy communion with Him throughout eternity.
As mentioned above, these three words describe the full process of salvation. As Christians, we were justified when we confessed Christ and believed (Romans 10:9), we are sanctified as we grow in holiness through the work of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:11–32; Galatians 5:16–24), and we will someday be glorified when we are resurrected into eternal life (Colossians 3:4). Justification is a one-time event, sanctification is a process, and glorification is a future event.
If you are a Christian, you are guaranteed all three steps (see Romans 8:29–30). You are forever justified, you are being sanctified, and you will for sure be glorified (1 Corinthians 6:11). All three of these amazing things are from God’s grace, not because of anything you have done or will do to earn them (Ephesians 2:8–9). You cannot earn your justification, you cannot achieve your sanctification, and you cannot merit your glorification. God makes all these things happen out of His love for you, by His grace alone (Romans 3:24; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Philippians 2:13; Titus 2:11). If you are trying to achieve any of these three things by your own power, you will inevitably fail. Instead, ask God for His grace, rely on His power, and walk by the Spirit.
If you are not a Christian, then you may be trying to have these things by your own merit. You may be trying to feel righteous before God, be good in your life, and leave a lasting legacy after you die. But you cannot do it on your own (Romans 3:10–20)! God does not want you to “try harder,” but to come to Him in faith. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Have you had your sins forgiven? Have you accepted God’s gracious gift of eternal life? If not, why not start today?
The way of salvation is simple, and it is only through Jesus Christ. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:9–13).