Given the confusion most believers have between sanctification and justification – and given the fact I was greatly confused too I hate to admit! – I was glad to choose this topic for my most recent final paper in a seminary class I just completed at Tyndale called, Christian Discipleship, taught by Dr. Charles Ryrie.
Sanctification turns out to be a long-term process that the believer has much responsibility in bringing about.
I present my paper:
Tyndale Bible College and Seminary
The Sanctification Process of the Believer in Light of Dr. Charles Ryrie’s
Book Balancing the Christian Life
A final paper submitted to
In partial fulfillment of the course
PAST2301 Christian Discipleship
December 15, 2014
Believers are said to be “sanctified.” The term is most often used in the past tense which implies that sanctification is a one-time event in the past for those who are in Christ. Problems can arise when viewing sanctification solely as a completed act instead of considering sanctification as an on-going process. A common problem appears too often when believers confuse sanctification with justification. Knowing the definitions of the two terms helps differentiate them but still, confusion often occurs by believers who understand only the definitional difference between the terms.
This paper addresses the definitional distinction between justification and sanctification. Once defined, the actual process of sanctification as it develops over time will be analyzed. A true understanding of sanctification should encourage believers to develop spiritual maturity within their Christian walk. In addition, misunderstandings related to soteriology can be reduced.
Defining Justification and Sanctification
While a study of sanctification can be performed without addressing justification, discussing both can help eliminate common confusion among believers. Perhaps the confusion that occurs between the two is why both are so often compared and contrasted when either is considered. Books such as The Gospel-Mystery of Sanctification and The Doctrine of Sanctification indicate they are studies of sanctification but both books address justification at length as well.
The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary defines justification as, “A term that describes the event whereby persons are set or declared to be in right relation to God.” The dictionary further explains that English translations of the New Testament (focusing especially on Paul’s writings) employ the noun “justification” that might more aptly be translated “righteousness” or “justice” and even “not guilty.” The word justification actually appears in Scripture only rarely.
It is exactly that position, being declared righteous, that distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever. The Bible shows that it is God who justifies. Romans 3:30 states, “… since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith…” Paul continued this concept in his letter to the Galatians when he wrote, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith…” (Ga. 3:8). Paul also states, “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’” (Ga. 3:11).
From these verses, one can see that justification is a transformation performed by God alone. God justifies no one through their works; the Law is not a tool that can justify. It is impossible for man to justify himself by attempting to follow the Law. Justification, or righteousness, is granted by God upon salvation and only through the new believer’s faith in Christ’s completed work. The natural man cannot be justified because he is not righteous. The natural man cannot be justified because he has not believed. The saved man is justified at the moment of salvation; the Holy Spirit baptizes him into the Body of Christ because of that justification (1 Cor. 12:13).
A primary background source required for this paper is Dr. Charles Ryrie’s Balancing the Christian Life. Therefore, Dr. Ryrie’s discussion of justification and the process of sanctification weigh heavily in this paper. In his book, Dr. Ryrie writes the following:
“[O]ur justification, or salvation, is vitally related to being ‘in Christ.’ Too, our future bodily resurrection is guaranteed by being ‘in Christ’ (1 Cor. 15:22). But our principal interest in the concept is its relation to our present sanctification or to the Christian life.”
Dr. Ryrie confirms that justification is virtually synonymous with the act of salvation. By using the relational conjunction or between “justification” and “salvation,” Ryrie connects the two about as closely as possible. He appears to be describing justification solely in a positional terminology. It turns out, there is hardly another way that one can discuss justification. Justification is a one-time positional move from being an unsaved, natural man destined for hell to a righteous, saved man already positionally in Christ and destined for Heaven.
Sanctification usually requires more discussion than justification for a variety of reasons that this paper will address below. Before looking at the definition of sanctification, it is worth noticing that in the previous excerpt, Ryrie quickly moved past a person’s one-time justification at salvation to say that it is sanctification which is “our principal interest.” He is not saying sanctification is more important than justification; they are two entirely different terms. Ryrie is simply setting up his readers to know that sanctification is a process that requires a more detailed discussion to understand, whereas justification is a one-time event and is a past, completed action for the believer.
The previous wording in no way is any attempt to belittle the wondrous aspect of justification. Sinful believers immediately turn righteous upon salvation because of their justification by God. God sees their sins no more because they are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness and they are in Him. Cleansing the new believer in this way, once and for all, is the greatest gift God could give a man.
The definition of sanctification is this: “A term meaning ‘being made holy, or purified.’ It is used broadly of the whole Christian experience…” Notice that this is an ongoing action as opposed to the one-time justification at salvation. Later in the same definition, The Tyndale Bible Dictionary continues by stating, “…that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit… This definition helps us to distinguish sanctification from regeneration in that the latter speaks of the inception of the Christian life.”
This dictionary is attempting to eliminate common confusion between justification and positional sanctification by showing the one-time aspect of justification and the continued process of a believer’s sanctification. A true sanctification does occur at salvation. Nevertheless, the process of sanctification occurs in different ways at different times in a believer’s life. In addition, the previous definition implies (accurately) that at least some part of sanctification is due to the believer’s actions as opposed to God who is the only one who can justify.
Dr. Ryrie echoes this view of sanctification, thus securing for this paper ample evidence that sanctification not only differs from justification but occurs over time and its success in part is determined by the way the believer chooses to live his life. Ryrie defines sanctification as follows: “The word sanctify basically means to set apart. It has the same root as the words saint and holy.” He then goes onto describe the three aspects of sanctification which will be addressed in the next section.
The confusion between justification and sanctification is understandable. God justifies a believer upon salvation and immediately considers that believer to be fully righteous. This saved believer is certainly set apart by this righteousness through this act of justification and salvation. From the very moment of salvation, the believer is completely set apart from the unsaved people around him. Many church-going believers learn, through rote hearing of it, that “sanctification means to be set apart.” This is a completely accurate definition, but without understanding that sanctification is a process performed both by the power of the Holy Spirit with the cooperation of the believer, one will be left in possible confusion between the terms justification and sanctification. By looking at sanctification as an ongoing process, however, the distinction becomes completely clear. Most important, by understanding the believer’s own role in the process of his sanctification, it is hoped that the believer will embrace the Holy Spirit’s calling more fully and live a richer, more spiritual, and deeper sanctified life.
The Three Aspects of Sanctification
Dr. Ryrie describes the sanctification process that a believer goes through as a three-part process. Upon salvation, the regenerated believer is justified and made righteous. In his righteousness, he is set apart from the natural man. This is an initial one-time eternal sanctification that results only by God justifying the man. Ryrie calls this first sanctification positional sanctification. The moment of salvation, when God sets apart a regenerate man through positional sanctification, the new believer is forever within the Body of Christ. His salvation is assured and he has a home in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:4-7).
God produces another aspect of a believer’s sanctification which Ryrie calls the believer’s ultimate sanctification. This step in sanctification occurs only after one’s death and transformation into the eternal, glorified body. At this point, the saint will certainly be about as “set apart” as possible given his position in Heaven as opposed to those experiencing eternal damnation.
Between positional and ultimate sanctification, there exists an on-going sanctification that begins at a believer’s salvation and ends upon the believer’s physical death. Ryrie calls this experiential or progressive sanctification. The Holy Spirit leads, guides, and directs believers. Still, the believer himself has responsibility for how much the Spirit is followed or grieved (Eph. 4:30). Purposefully walking in God’s stated will, without sinning, is the duty of all believers. To the extent a believer lives a spiritual life, that believer will be successful in being progressively sanctified.
Dennis Waltemeyer describes positional sanctification, progressive sanctification, and ultimate sanctification in salvation-related tense terminology: justification salvation (past tense), sanctification salvation (present tense), and glorification salvation (future tense). This time-related terminology helps clarify the fact that justification differs from much of the sanctification process. In addition, this time-related salvation-based terminology serves as an extremely useful framework in which to understand Paul’s instruction to believers when he wrote, “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” (Phil. 2:12). Paul is not stressing a works-based salvation but encouraging and even requesting that his audience humbly and joyfully submit themselves to the will of God. The next three verses in this passage clarify Paul’s message if there was any misunderstanding that he was promoting works when he wrote this:
“… for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world…” (Phil. 2:13-15)
Additional Problems Arise from a Lack of Understanding
Understanding the concept that progressive sanctification (sanctification salvation) correlates closely with the believer’s desire to follow the Holy Spirit can help eliminate confusion that might otherwise result from a more limited view of the salvation process. For example, if one views both justification and sanctification as one-time events that occur only at salvation, then confusion can result if a believer lives his life no differently after salvation from the way a natural man lives.
If sanctification is a one-time event, then if a saved man continues to live in willful sin and shows no fruit, obviously he was not saved to begin with. This is a reasonable argument but a fallacious one. In the context of a literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic, eternal life can mean nothing but “eternal” life. Such a believer’s glorification salvation is equally secure as the believer who joyfully walks in the Spirit’s will. A believer might show no sign of holiness and that greatly affects his experiential sanctification as well as harms his witness to others. His glorification salvation remains intact as Paul explained when he wrote, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…” (Ro. 4:5). Note this relates to justification and not sanctification.
Dr. Charles Ray examined problems that arise when one confuses justification and sanctification salvation. He wrote:
“Some aspects of the Reformed faith are puzzling. Brownson writes, ‘… faith in Christ [is] the sole means of our salvation’ (p. xii). Later he states, ‘To be baptized is, quite simply, to become a Christian’ (p. 3). Can these two statements be harmonized? Similarly, ‘… baptism is the rite that marks the beginning of membership in the church’ (p. 16). It seems that those of the Reformed persuasion (like Lordship salvation proponents) confuse salvation and discipleship. Baptism is a feature of discipleship, and does nothing to make one ‘more saved’ (my words).”
If one’s actions were to determine his salvation, then only one Man who walked the earth would have eternal life. The justified man’s actions determine how effective he will be as a witness for God but his actions speak nothing of his eternal security. If his life after justification corresponds well to the Word of God’s description of holiness, and if he allows the Holy Spirit to lead and guide him, his life will appear as a light in this world as Paul so aptly described in his letter to the Philippians.
Viewing justification as the one-time act performed exclusively by God, while viewing sanctification as a process that only begins at the moment of justification salvation, enables one to understand the dynamics of how believers can affect their own sanctification process or hinder it. No matter what the believer does, however, his glorification salvation remains intact. God shows extreme wisdom in giving the believer some responsibility in working out his own salvation. It is hoped that by understanding how much of the sanctification process is up to the believer himself that he will assume more responsibility to be true to the Spirit’s guidance.
 Walter Marshall, The Gospel-Mystery of Sanctification (New York: Southwick and Peluse, 1811).
 Arthur Walkington Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005).
 Richard B. Hays, “Justification,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1129.
 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1994), 63.
 Ibid., 51
 Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 1163.
 Ryrie, 63.
 Ibid., 63.
 Dennis Waltemeyer, “Soteriology #3, A Case Study,” (Podcast), posted November 16, 2014, accessed December 15, 2014, http://www.sundaystreams.com/go/fbgbible/playeronly.
 Charles Ray, “Review of The Promise of Baptism by James Brownson,” Journal of Dispensational Theology Volume 11, no. 34 (2007): 88.