Have you ever noticed that every area of your life requires learning new vocabulary? This is the case whether you are talking to your doctor, your mechanic, or just trying to buy some flowers at Walmart. Your doctor will use words like hypothyroidism, osteoarthritis, deep vein thrombosis, and diabetic neuropathy. Your mechanic will say things like alternator, differential fluid, catalytic converter, and injection system. And the person selling you flowers at Walmart will use words like annual, biennial, and perennial. You may know what these words mean now, but there was a time when you didn’t have a clue what they meant. The only reason you know what they mean now is that someone explained them to you.
This is how it is in many areas of life, and Christianity is no exception. There are many vocabulary words in the Bible that require a thorough explanation for us to fully understand the truth God is trying to convey to us. God gave us the Bible with the full intention of us understanding the truth its words contain, but some parts of the Bible require a little more study to understand than others.
“Salvation” for instance. We all know it means to be saved. But to fully understand all that God means when he uses the word “salvation” requires a decent bit of study. And when you start to study salvation, you will come across more new vocabulary words like: conviction, faith, repentance, regeneration, union, justification, sanctification, and glorification. If you want to fully understand all that God’s word has to say about “salvation”, you will eventually have to understand these words also.
Now, I am not trying to make anyone feel hopeless at the thought of ever understanding the deeper truths of scripture. For it has been said many times that the message of scripture is so simple that even a child can understand it, yet, at the same time, so complex that you could study it the rest of your life and never fully understand it.
My point is that if you want to gain a deeper understanding of God’s message to you, you will have to understand some new vocabulary words. My goal here today is to help you gain a little better understanding of the salvation God offers and bestows upon those he has called to faith in his son, Jesus Christ. To do this, I am going to discuss three of Christianity’s most important vocabulary words: justification, sanctification, and glorification.
I wrote a devotional that went out on July 18 that was titled “A Divine Love Story” in which I explained that the salvation God offers us is obtained by being united by faith with Jesus Christ and what he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection. Salvation is ultimately a supernatural work of God in which he unites us with Jesus Christ. Salvation is union with Christ. That is how salvation is acquired. Now, in this devotional I want to explain what all that salvation entails, from the moment we are united with Christ to the moment we cross over into eternity in the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Now, my explanation is going to be far from complete, but I want to at least help you understand salvation a little better by helping you understand justification, sanctification, and glorification, and how they are different yet related.
First, let me explain how they are related. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are simply three parts of salvation. In my explanation of these three parts of salvation, I will be using some quotes because sometimes you just cannot say something better than someone else has already said it.
The following definition is a quote from page 197 of John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus (broken up for simplicity):
“Justification may be defined as:
1. an act of God whereby he imputes to a believing sinner the full and perfect righteousness of Christ,
2. forgiving the sinner of all unrighteousness,
3. declaring him or her perfectly righteous in God’s sight,
4. thus delivering the believer from all condemnation.
That definition contains several elements: imputed righteousness, forgiveness of sins, a new standing before God, and a reversal of God’s wrath.
Those all indicate that justification is a legal verdict. It is a forensic reality that takes place in the court of God, not in the heart of the sinner.
In other words, justification is an instantaneous change of one’s standing before God, not a gradual transformation that takes place within the one who is justified.”
Justification is only the first part of salvation. Justification happens in the blink of an eye. It is the moment that God, by his grace, unites us with Jesus Christ by his gracious gift of faith that he produces within us. It that moment, our sinful inner person is united with Christ in his death and raised from death to life with Christ in his resurrection. In that moment, God’s Spirit enters us to indwell us, initiating salvation by regenerating us, making us a new creation, resulting in us becoming a child of God. But the Spirit does not indwell us just to initiate salvation, but to continue to produce that salvation within us until the moment our salvation is completed on the day of Christ’s return.
Justification is the initiation of salvation. Sanctification is the continuation of salvation. Glorification is the completion of salvation.
The following definition is a quote from page 980 of Millard Erickson’s book, Christian Theology, 2nd edition (broken up for simplicity):
1. the continuing work of God in the life of the believer,
2. making him or her actually holy.
By ‘holy’ here is meant ‘bearing an actual likeness to God.’
Sanctification is a process by which one’s moral condition is brought into conformity with one’s legal status before God.
It is a continuation of what was begun in regeneration, when a newness of life was conferred upon and instilled within the believer.
In particular, sanctification is the Holy Spirit’s applying to the life of the believer the work done by Jesus Christ.”
Sanctification is the second part of salvation. While justification happens in the blink of an eye, sanctification takes place for the rest of the believer’s life. While justification is the moment a new believer is legally declared righteous in the court of God, sanctification is the process of the believer being continually and actually transformed closer and closer into the righteous image of Jesus Christ. It is the process of the indwelling Spirit of God continually convicting the believer of their sin, moving them towards repentance of those sins, working within them to bring them to repentance of those sins, and producing actual obedience to the will of God.
Now, during this life the believer’s actual righteousness will never fully conform to their legal standing of being perfectly righteous before God. But God promises to complete the salvation he has begun in his children. This is where the third part of salvation, glorification, comes in.
The following definition is a quote from page 1008 of Millard Erickson’s book, Christian Theology, 2nd edition (broken up for simplicity):
“Glorification is multidimensional…
1. It involves the perfecting of the spiritual nature of the individual believer, which takes place at death, when the Christian passes into the presence of the Lord.
2. It also involves the perfecting of the bodies of all believers, which will occur at the time of the resurrection in connection with the second coming of Christ.”
Glorification is the third part of salvation. It is the completion of the salvation God initiated when he justified you and made you his child. It is the completion of the salvation God continues to work in you even at this very moment.
So many people mistakenly think that salvation is justification alone, and do not realize that the salvation scripture speaks of includes all three: justification, sanctification, and glorification.
You see, God’s salvation is a complete salvation. By his amazing grace, he grants you the faith necessary to trust in Jesus Christ to save you, he legally declares you righteous in his heavenly court (justification), he indwells you to continually produce an ever-increasing righteousness in you as he conforms you to the image of his righteous Son (sanctification), and he will someday complete your salvation by making you perfectly righteous, giving you a heavenly body, and accepting you into heaven to spend eternity in his presence.
All of your salvation, every part, from initiation to completion, is a supernatural act of grace bestowed upon an underserving person by a loving God.
A FINAL THOUGHT
The salvation God offers always includes all three: justification, sanctification, and glorification. If God justifies a person, he will sanctify them until the day that he glorifies them.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
— Romans 8:28–30 NAS
If a person is justified (what many mistakenly refer to as salvation), then they will show signs of being sanctified. There will be some sign of evidence in their life that God’s Spirit is indwelling them and working within them to conform them into the image of Jesus Christ, increasingly making them more and more righteous by bringing them from conviction of sin to repentance of sin and ultimately to obedience to his will.
In light of this truth, we should all listen to the apostle Paul when he exhorts us to:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
— 2 Corinthians 13:5 ESV
Ask God to open your eyes to clearly see the truth about yourself. Ask God to help you see yourself as he does. Examine yourselves.
What are you basing your salvation on? Are you trusting in some prayer you prayed in the past? Are you trusting what someone else has told you? Did your pastor tell you that you were saved? Does your mother or father constantly remind you of the prayer you prayed and tell you that you are saved?
Please, do not base your eternity on some prayer you prayed in the past or on what someone else tells you! True assurance of salvation comes from experiencing God’s sanctifying work in your life today.
Examine yourselves. If God is sanctifying you today, then you have been justified and will surely be glorified. If there is no evidence of God’s sanctifying work in your life, then you may not have truly been justified. And I assure you, if you have not been truly justified and are not currently being sanctified, you will surely not be glorified.
If you have been mistaken about your salvation, the fact that you are reading this right now means that God has given you the breath, at least at this moment, to call out to him to save you.