What is the difference between salvation, sanctification, justification and righteousness?


There are many “spiritual blessings” that are imparted to the sinner the moment he trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ as savior. These are four of those blessings and although they are vitally connected, they do differ and we do well to know what those differences are. Let’s look at each of them briefly.

Salvation means “deliverance.” In John 10:9 Jesus said, “I am the door: by Me if any man enter in he shall be saved.” When we see ourselves as sinners and put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our savior, He delivers us from the penalty of our sins. In other words, He delivers us from hell! We can then say, on the authority of God’s Word, “I’m saved.” Ephesians 2:8 bears testimony to this wonderful truth, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. There is also a present aspect of salvation from the power of sin and a future aspect of salvation from the presence of sin. We experience deliverance from sin’s power through Christ living for us in the glory and we will have deliverance from the very presence of sin when Christ comes to take us home to glory.

Sanctification means “to be set apart.” There are two ways in which the believer in Christ is sanctified, or “set apart.” We are sanctified once and for all through the atoning work of Christ. Hebrews 10:10 states, “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” We call this ‘positional sanctification’ because we are set apart to God “in Christ.” Our position in Christ will never change! There is also ‘practical sanctification’, where our lives are set apart to God daily through the Word of God. Jesus prayed for this in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.” As we study God’s Word and obey it, we will experience this sanctification practically in our lives. This sanctification will go on until the Rapture; then we shall be completely sanctified, for we will then be perfectly holy in both position and practice, totally and eternally set apart to God.

Justification means “to be declared righteous.” In Romans 3:10 and 19 God declares, “There is none righteous, no, not one” and “all the world may become guilty before God.” Because of sin, we are not “right with God” and He has pronounced everyone “guilty.” As guilty sinners we deserve death and judgment but because Christ took our place in death and judgment on the cross, God can now “declare the believing sinner righteous” or “NOT guilty.” Romans 3:26 says, “To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” What a marvel of God’s grace! God looks at us now as “not guilty” even though we have sinned, for He sees us in all the value of the work His Son accomplished on the cross. This brings us to our next word, righteousness.

Righteousness means “the quality of being right or just.” This is obviously closely linked with justification, for we saw that justification was “to be declared righteous.” The difference between the two is this, God can “declare us righteous” because He “sees us righteous in His Son.” To help us understand this let’s read 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” On the cross Jesus took our sins upon Himself and bore the judgment due to those sins. God treated Jesus as if He were the sinner, though He was absolutely holy. Now God can look at the sinner who believes on Jesus Christ and treat us as if we were holy, though in truth we are not holy. How can He do this? Because He sees us in all the value of Christ’s work on the cross, with our sins forever put away. Thus we are now “made the righteousness of God in Him.” We are now “right or just” in God’s sight! Praise be to God for what He has made us to be in Christ! And praise be to the Lord Jesus for being willing to be treated as the sinner on the cross so we could be treated as righteous before a thrice holy God! (164.9) (DO)